Like most of the nation during the 1930s, St. Louis, Missouri, was caught in the stifling grip of the Great Depression. For the next thirty years, the Gateway City continued to experience significant urban decline as its population swelled and the area's industries stagnated. Over these decades, many African American citizens in the region found themselves struggling financially and fighting for access to profitable jobs and suitable working conditions. To combat ingrained racism, crippling levels of poverty, and substandard living conditions, black women worked together to form a community-based culture of resistance - fighting for employment, a living wage, dignity, a better welfare system, and quality public housing.
In this impressive study, Keona K. Ervin reinterprets the history of these social movements by chronicling the resistance and collective actions of domestic workers, food processors, clerks, defense workers, garment makers, public housing tenants, welfare recipients, and the unemployed. She argues that working-class women's self-organization for economic dignity shaped both the black freedom struggle and trade union activism in St. Louis and contributed to larger visions of a democratic social contract.
Throughout, Ervin presents a stunning account of the ways in which black working-class women creatively fused racial and economic justice. By illustrating that their politics played an important role in defining urban political agendas, her work sheds light on an unexplored aspect of community activism and illuminates the complexities of the overlapping civil rights and labor movements during the first half of the twentieth century.
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Keona K. Ervin is assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri.
In this masterful work, Keona Ervin makes a convincing case that African American working-class women's self-organization not only shaped black freedom movements and trade unionism but also embodied the larger possibilities for a democratic social contract for all. Gateway to Equality uses gender not only as a means not only of identifying the full scope of black women's work and activism, but also as a tool for interrogating the meanings of 'civil rights' and 'labor' themselves. In accomplishing this, Ervin pushes to the next level the study of black working-class community and struggle in St. Louis, Missouri and beyond." - Clarence Lang, author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936 " Gateway to Equality is an important work of historical research that not only explores black women's paid work and working-class black women's class experiences, but also importantly situates black women's struggles for justice and dignity - often unpaid and always fraught, whether led by working-class or middle-class black women - as 'labor.'" - Rhonda Y. Williams, author of Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century
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