Post-Civil Rights: 1970-1976
Excerpt from a 1995 interview with E.T. "Al" Kehrer, a labor organizer who headed the AFL-CIO's Southern Civil Rights Office, about his work in the labor movement and civil rights activism from the 1930s through the 60s. Courtesy of Southern Labor Archives, Georgia State University, Voices of Labor Oral History Project.
In the early 1970s America was in the midst of a recession, a time of high inflation and high unemployment, and the Americans most affected were often “unskilled” workers. Civil rights and labor leaders continued to stress the importance of the movements working together to protect the most vulnerable workers and their families. Coretta Scott King took up the mantle as the public face of the civil rights movement in the wake of her husband’s murder. She envisioned the 1976 Martin Luther King, Jr. Conference as an opportunity to emphasize how civil and labor rights were still intertwined, especially in the Black American experience. And elsewhere in the South, labor organizers found that poor white workers still hated integration more than they wanted to fight unfair employment practices. Black workers enthusiastically joined unions, particularly in segregated towns where a union might be the only guarantee of benefits and the most visible measure of protection in their lives. But their employers played to whites’ prejudices against working alongside African Americans, which significantly weakened the power of organized labor throughout the South.