In the early twentieth century, the Upper Texas Gulf Coast was one of the fastest growing industrial areas in the country. The cotton trade had attracted railroad and ship labor to the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, numerous oil refineries sprouted up in response to the Spindletop gusher of 1901, and the shipbuilding and steel trades were also prospering as a result of the oil boom. Such economic promise attracted thousands of black laborers from across the South who hoped to find a good job and a better life. They were instead kept in low-wage jobs, refused union memberships, and restricted in their mobility.
Black Unionism in the Industrial South presents the struggles of black workers who fought for equality and unionization in the heyday of Gulf Coast industry. Ernest Obadele-Starks examines the unionists' responses to racial and class domination and their creative strategies to reach their goals. Facing public and corporate policy that typically deferred to white workers, blacks banded together to achieve representation in the workplace, form union auxiliaries, charter their own local unions, seal alliances with members of the black middle class, and manipulate the media to benefit their cause. Personal accounts highlight the unionists' passion, even when their requests and demands resulted in little more than "gradual participation, sporadic inclusion, and minimal interracial cooperation".
Obadele-Starks eloquently captures the unionists' fight and discusses the implications of their struggle for the industrial society of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. Students and scholars of American labor history, race relations, and Texas history will find Black Unionism in the Industrial Southa valuable and compelling scholarly work.
Ernest Obadele-Starks is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Houston.
"Finally, someone has brought the Upper Texas Gulf Coast and labor race relations history out of obscurity. Obadele-Starks' study forces us all to take a careful look at a key region in the history of southern industrialization and African American proletarianization. It offers significant insights into how black workers organized to meet multiple challenges of exploitation, racism, government ineptitude and insensitivity, and inhumane job conditions, in other words, slavery in a blue collar. . . "--Amilcar Shabazz, American Studies, University of Alabama