The Pre-Civil Rights Era: 1920-1955

In its early stages the American Federation of Labor (AFL) admitted both unions that included Black workers and unions that completely excluded them. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, AFL leadership focused on maintaining relationships with white politicians and organizing white-majority craft unions, and so declined to enforce any stand on unions hiring Black, female, or unskilled workers. As a result, some 1.4 million Black workers remained unorganized. In contrast, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was made up of unions that had split from the AFL and specifically organized so-called unskilled laborers, many of whom were Black. It would take Black union leadership itself, beginning in the 1920s with A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), and the rise of nationally-recognized civil rights organizations to reduce racism within the labor movement.