Black History Is Teamster History

Posted: January 31, 2014
Local 810 March on WashingtonThe contributions of black members to the success of the Teamsters Union are numerous, varied and as old as the union itself. Black team drivers attended the first Convention in 1903 and were active in all aspects of the union from the beginning. That commitment remains strong today.

The Teamsters Union has traditionally been ahead of other unions in terms of the treatment of minority members, calling for “no color line” in the union as early as 1906. The union began actively seeking to organize black men and women around the same time. Black members made up half of the executive board at the first New Orleans local in 1903 and black women helped establish one of the first “color free” contracts in the country in 1917 as Teamsters negotiated equal pay for black and white laundry women. That foundation of equality led black members to become strong advocates for civil rights and other social justice causes through the years.

General President James R. Hoffa was strongly opposed to segregation of any kind and chose to forfeit prospective members rather than abandon the principles of the union. At one point in the 1950s, he and Vice President Harold Gibbons traveled to New Orleans to lead an organizing campaign at a chemical plant but were stonewalled by white workers demanding a separate local for black workers. Hoffa refused, knowing they would lose the election because of the decision. Hoffa was angry about the loss but felt the union was better off without such racist members. “We don’t need ‘em,” he said. “Their way is not the Teamster way.”
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