Labor

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Entry Category: Labor

Agricultural Wheel

The Agricultural Wheel was a state farmers’ union, founded in the Arkansas Delta, which expanded into ten other states, mostly in the South but reaching as far north as Wisconsin. Although the Agricultural Wheel was short-lived as an independent farmers’ union, it influenced the future formation of other such unions in Arkansas and led, in part, to the rise of the Populist movement in the state. After the Civil War, Arkansas (and Southern) farmers returned to growing primarily cotton, in part because bankers had insisted on farmers raising a cash crop as a condition for providing them with financing. Cotton acreage therefore increased, but prices fell due to overproduction, leading farmers to compensate by planting yet more cotton, which led …

Arkansas AFL-CIO

aka: Arkansas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
The Arkansas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (Arkansas AFL-CIO) is an umbrella organization of more than 190 local unions, central labor councils, and subordinate bodies such as state associations and district councils. As of 2009, the state federation represents the interests and concerns of more than 30,000 working people in organized labor in diverse occupations around Arkansas. The Arkansas AFL-CIO is affiliated with the National AFL-CIO, which represents over 11 million union members across the country. The Arkansas AFL-CIO was chartered on March 20, 1956. It was the first in the nation to merge the AFL and CIO into one state central body. Member organizations include unions that represent the building trades industry, steelworkers, governmental and …

Arkansas Farmers Union

aka: Arkansas Farmers Educational Cooperative Union
The Arkansas iteration of the Farmers Union—founded as the Farmers Educational Cooperative Union of America—took root in Spring Hill (Hempstead County) in 1903, one year after the national organization’s founding in Point, Texas. Its populism mirrored earlier farmers’ movements, including the Farmers’ Alliance and the Agricultural Wheel. Focused on those who actually produced food and fiber, the union was often at odds with banks, commodity exchanges, processers, and shippers. As larger corporate farms emerged, the union aspired to speak for “family farmers,” a goal it continues to embrace in the twenty-first century. By 1907, the union’s Arkansas state convention reported 718 locals and 78,085 members. That number probably included lapsed members, as Secretary-Treasurer Ben Griffin reported no more than 42,039 dues-paying …

Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission

The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission is a quasi-judicial agency of the executive branch of Arkansas government, charged with the responsibility of administering the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Law. Amendment No. 26 of the Arkansas Constitution, which was adopted by the people of the state in the general election held on November 8, 1938, created and gave constitutional authority for the organization and operation of the commission. The amendment provides that the Arkansas General Assembly shall have the power to enact laws prescribing the amount of compensation to be paid by employers for injuries to or death of employees; to pay restitution to the spouses and children of the deceased workers; and to provide the means, methods, and forum for adjudicating claims …

Banks, Alfred

Alfred (Alf) Banks was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder following the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six (including Banks) who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were released in 1925. There are conflicting dates as to when Alfred Banks Jr. was born. The 1930 census indicates 1895, his World War I draft registration card shows 1897, and his Missouri death certificate gives 1899. Whatever the year, Banks was born on either August 23 or 24 …

Becker, Jerome Bill

Jerome Bill Becker served as president of the Arkansas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from 1964 to 1996. At the time of his death, Becker was noted as the longest-serving state AFL-CIO president in the United States. J. Bill Becker was born on February 25, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, Joseph and Hazel Becker, were Russian immigrants. In 1942, Becker graduated in the upper third of his class from John Marshall High School in Chicago, where he was a standout football player. Becker suffered a knee injury while playing high school football, which initially made him ineligible to serve in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Instead, he worked at a defense …

Bonanza Race War of 1904

The Bonanza Race War of 1904 was a race riot/labor war that occurred in the coal-mining city of Bonanza (Sebastian County) and resulted in the expulsion of African Americans from the city following several days of violence. The event is indicative of a general antipathy toward black labor in the coal mines of western Arkansas, and, by the end of the decade, African Americans could reportedly be found in only two mining communities, having been driven from the rest. Bonanza was a coal-mining city even before its incorporation in 1898. Central Coal and Coke Company operated the only three mines there, and the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway (Frisco) provided easy transportation, both for coal and other goods and for travelers. …

Bracero Program

To ensure that U.S. farmers had sufficient labor, the U.S. State Department and the Mexican Foreign Affairs Department signed a bilateral agreement to create the Bracero Program in August 1942. Preceded by the similar Emergency Farm Labor Program, it aimed to supply landowners with laborers so they could meet increased wartime demand for their crops. Under the terms of the agreement, workers were contracted for a period of no more than ninety days, and they could reenlist in the program each year. The program was administered by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and hiring agents in cities such as Tijuana, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Mexico City. The majority of braceros worked in the West—primarily California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and …

Coal Hill Convict Lease Investigation (1888)

In the spring of 1888, the coal mining operations in Johnson County, worked by convict leased labor, were the focus of an investigation by the state of Arkansas for reported cases of brutality. The investigation led to a reevaluation of the convict lease system and its eventual abolishment several years later. During the years immediately following the Civil War, Arkansas developed a growing prison population and acquired the financial problems associated with such growth. Governor Isaac Murphy proposed instituting the practice of leasing convicts to assist in solving this problem. In 1867, the state established the convict lease system. The company of Hodges, Peay and Ayliff contracted with the state at the rate of thirty-five cents a day to provide …

Coleman, Ed “Sweat”

Ed Coleman was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder and sentenced to death following the Elaine Massacre of 1919; he was part of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Moore v. Dempsey. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants, including Coleman, were released in 1925. Little is known about Ed Coleman’s early life. He was born in Arkansas around 1855, likely in slavery, to Robert Coleman and Jane Kelley. Coleman next shows up in …

Coronado Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of America

aka: United Mine Workers of America v. Coronado Coal Co.
Coronado Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of America refers here to two separate cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court during the tenure of Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Both arose from Arkansas’s Sebastian County Union War of 1914 and featured the same parties: the Coronado Coal Company and District No. 21, a local Arkansas branch of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The first case, United Mine Workers of America v. Coronado Coal Co. (1922), was an appeal that ruled in favor of the union. It overturned a lower court decision by the Court of Appeals that found the union in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act during the strike. The Supreme Court, however, found little evidence that …

Cotton Pickers Strike of 1891

The Cotton Pickers Strike of 1891 was an ill-conceived attempt by a group of African-American sharecroppers in Lee County, perhaps loosely affiliated with the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Union (commonly called the Colored Famers’ Alliance), to increase the wages they received from local planters for picking cotton. By the time a white mob put down the strike, more than a dozen African Americans and one white man had been killed. The Colored Farmers’ Alliance was founded in Texas in 1886 as the black counterpart to the Farmers’ Alliance, an all-white organization that was part of the late nineteenth-century populist, agrarian reform movement. The Colored Farmers’ Alliance spread quickly throughout the South, claiming a membership of more than one million …

Crossett Strike of 1940

The Crossett Strike of 1940 was a fifty-eight-day work stoppage in the lumber and manufacturing town of Crossett (Ashley County). The strike followed a contract dispute between the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (Local No. 2590) and the Crossett Lumber Company. (The Crossett Lumber Company owned all the land, mills, and residential real estate comprising the town of Crossett in the early 1900s.) Picketing and protests were initially peaceful before altercations became more tense and violent as community support for the union waned. The final settlement increased wages for workers but did not address the root causes of the strike—namely, management’s unwillingness to provide preferential treatment to union members or permit a union shop. On June 4, …

Fort Smith Telephone Operators Strike of 1917

On September 19, 1917, women who were employed as telephone operators by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) left their stations, walked out of the exchange, and began striking. This strike was a response to the company’s dismissal of two employees, Nora Boger and Mamie Garret, due to their involvement with the creation of a labor union for the operators. When the company denied the reinstatement of these women, the strike began. Over the next four months, the company would wage court battles against the strikers instead of listening to their demands, and conciliators from the Department of Labor would be called in to help solve the conflict. While the strike itself was tumultuous and disrupted …

Giles, Albert

Albert Giles was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder following the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six (including Giles) who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were released in 1925. Albert Giles was born in Louisiana on November 22, 1898, to Sallie T. Giles and an unidentified father. He moved to Phillips County, Arkansas, sometime in the early 1900s and was residing in Elaine (Phillips County) when he was drafted into the U.S. military on September …

Great Southwestern Strike

At its height, the Great Southwestern Strike of 1886 shut down railway lines in five states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Missouri), threatened to upset commerce nationally, and, with its promise of union recognition, attracted support from a wide spectrum of unskilled and semi-skilled railroaders. Instead of winning union recognition, the strikers met with a terrible defeat that divested hundreds of their jobs, confirmed the power of the state and federal governments to repress labor unrest on the railways, and dealt a severe blow to the Knights of Labor, the nation’s largest labor union. Defeat was not total, however; strikers’ grassroots, cross-racial activism on the railroads contributed to the broader Populist movement in Texas and Arkansas. The Great Southwestern Strike …

Guthridge, Amis Robert

Amis Robert Guthridge was a Little Rock (Pulaski County) attorney and businessman best known for his role in organizing resistance to school desegregation in Hoxie (Lawrence County) in 1955 and at Little Rock Central High in 1957. Though he first gained national notoriety as the lead spokesman for these anti-integration campaigns, Guthridge’s activist career began in the late 1940s when he held prominent positions in the “Dixiecrat” Party and the anti-union Arkansas Free Enterprise Association. Indeed, Guthridge’s passion for rolling back what he saw as the “socialistic” takeover unleashed by the New Deal was equal to and integral to his passion for maintaining racial segregation. Amis Guthridge was born in Hot Springs (Garland County) in 1908 to Arthur and Myrtle …

Hagerty, Thomas J.

Thomas J. Hagerty was a Roman Catholic priest and social activist. He was originally involved in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), an association that included some early interactions with the active Arkansas chapter of the party. However, he eventually left the socialists and embraced the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an organization he helped to establish. Thomas Hagerty was born in 1862, but there is little information about his life prior to his ordination in Chicago, Illinois, in 1895. While there were rumors that he was a socialist prior to his ordination, his politics became problematic for the church soon after he entered the priesthood. He was transferred to the Archdiocese of Dallas, Texas, …

Harrison Railroad Riot

aka: Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad Strike
The Harrison Railroad Riot was an outbreak of anti-union violence in the town of Harrison (Boone County), supported in part by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), as well as the city government and local business interests. The riot was in response to a two-year strike along the Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) railroad and ended in the lynching of a man accused of harboring militant strikers, along with the forced exodus of most strikers north into Missouri. The St. Louis and North Arkansas Railroad was chartered on May 17, 1899, and extended into Harrison in 1901; tracks were soon laid connecting other Ozark towns such as Leslie (Searcy County) and Heber Springs (Cleburne County) and went farther southeast to Helena …

Heartsill, Willie Blount Wright (W. B. W.)

During the 1880s and 1890s, Willie Blount Wright Heartsill (whose first name was pronounced “Wylie” and who was better known as W. B. W. Heartsill) played an active role in the farmer and labor movements in Arkansas. By the early 1890s, he had assumed a position of leadership in both movements, becoming the head of the Knights of Labor in the state and running for Congress as a Populist candidate in 1892. He later served in the Arkansas General Assembly. W. B. W. Heartsill was born in Louisville, Tennessee, on September 14, 1840, to Hiram Heartsill and Amanda Wright Heartsill. He married three times and was the father of seven children. During the Civil War, Heartsill was in the Confederate …

Hicks, Ed

Ed Hicks was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder following the Elaine Massacre of 1919. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants (including Ed Hicks and his brother Frank) and six who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The appeal of his and others’ sentences led to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Moore v. Dempsey. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were released in 1925. Ed Hicks was born on December 23, 1873, in Dublin County, North Carolina, to Lucy Hicks. Hicks and his wife, Mattie Hicks, married …

Hill, Robert Lee

Robert Lee Hill was an African-American leader who was forced to flee Arkansas during the bloody Elaine Massacre of 1919. He spent the rest of his life in Topeka, Kansas, repairing freight cars for the Santa Fe Railway. Robert Hill was born in Dermott (Chicot County), the son of Robert L. Hill Jr. and Elizabeth Griffin Hill. He was born on June 8, but the exact year of his birth is inconsistently reported in official records, ranging from 1892 on his World War I draft registration card to 1898 on his Kansas death certificate. Hill married Hattie Alexander in 1916. In 1917, Hill was working at the Valley Planting Company in Winchester (Drew County). Hill was a grand counsellor, with …

Horton, Zilphia Mae Johnson

Zilphia Mae Johnson Horton was an influential educator, folklorist, musician, and social justice activist who collected, adapted, performed, and promoted the use of folksongs and hymns in the labor and civil rights movements, notably “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “We Shall Overcome.” These two, respectively, became labor and civil rights movement anthems. She served as the first cultural director of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee—the precursor of today’s Highlander Research and Education Center, founded by her husband Myles Horton—until her untimely death in 1956. Zilphia Johnson was born in Paris (Logan County) on April 14, 1910, the second child of Robert Guy Johnson, a coal mine superintendent, and Ora Ermon Howard Johnson, a schoolteacher. She was the eldest of …

Knights of Labor

The largest American labor organization of its era, the Knights of Labor (KOL) recruited workers across boundaries of gender, race, and skill. The organization claimed more than 700,000 members at its peak in 1886, and actual membership at that time may have surpassed one million. In Arkansas, membership peaked at over 5,000 in 1887, and despite the KOL’s official view of strikes as a measure of last resort, the organization led strikes in Arkansas among railroad workers, coal miners, and African-American farmhands. During the 1890s, the KOL sank into oblivion, but the organization played a pioneering role in both the unionization and political mobilization of workers in factories, mines, and farms. Origins Formed as a secret organization in Philadelphia in …

Labor Movement

Soon after Arkansas’s 1836 admission to the Union, wage workers in the state began uniting for their mutual economic and political benefit. Throughout the nineteenth century, these associations—commonly called trade unions—tended to be short lived and unstable, reflecting the dominance of agriculture in Arkansas’s economy. But in the twentieth century, as industry began gaining a toehold in the state, the labor movement began improving the lives of wage workers through collective bargaining and by securing passage of legislation in the interest of all workers. Although weak when compared with their counterparts in more industrialized states, Arkansas’s trade unions were at the forefront of every significant wave of reform in the state during the twentieth century—the Progressive Era, the New Deal, …

Lorch, Grace Lonegran

Grace Lorch, wife of Philander Smith College mathematics professor Lee Lorch, was a civil rights and labor rights activist. She is best known for lending aid to one of the Little Rock Nine during the Central High School desegregation crisis in 1957. Of Irish extraction, Grace Lonergan was born on September 26, 1903, to William and Delia Lonergan in Boston, Massachusetts. She and her brother Thomas grew up in a working-class household in which her father was a railroad worker and her mother was a homemaker. Grace Lonergan became a public school teacher at a young age. She was a member of the Boston Teachers’ Union and the Boston Central Labor Council. After she married Lee Lorch in December 1943, …

Mechanics’ Institute of Little Rock

In September 1858, a group of white workingmen in Little Rock (Pulaski County) formed one of the state’s first labor organizations, the Mechanics’ Institute, which sought to protect white workingmen from un-free or “degraded” competitors—free Negroes, slaves, and inmates at the state penitentiary—who were forcing down wages. The Mechanics’ Institute sought a political solution to the workingmen’s competitive troubles, calling on the Arkansas General Assembly to “stop permitting free negroes to reside among us,” limit the work of slaves to agricultural and domestic pursuits, and convert “the employment of convicts in our State prison more exclusively to the manufacture of such goods and articles as are not manufactured here.” In demanding these reforms, the Mechanics’ Institute enunciated a version of …

Mitchell, Harry Leland

Harry Leland Mitchell was a lifelong union activist and co-founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) in eastern Arkansas, one of the first integrated labor unions in the United States. The STFU was unique among unions in “encouraging members to leave,” helping them find a life outside tenant farming. H. L. Mitchell was born on June 14, 1906, to Maude Ella Stanfield and James Young Mitchell, a tenant farmer and sometime preacher in Halls, Tennessee. Mitchell attended school sporadically while working various jobs to help support his family. He sharecropped, worked in a clothing store, and ran a one-pump gas station. He finally graduated from Halls High School in 1925. He married Lyndell “Dell” Carmack on December 26, 1926, …

Moore, Frank

Frank Moore was one of twelve African-American men accused of murder and sentenced to death following the Elaine Massacre of 1919; his name was attached to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Moore v. Dempsey. After brief trials, the so-called Elaine Twelve—six who became known as the Moore defendants and six who became known as the Ware defendants—were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Ultimately, the Ware defendants were freed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1923; after numerous legal efforts, the Moore defendants were released in 1925. Born in Gold Dust, Louisiana, in Avoyelles Parish, on May 1, 1888, Frank Moore was the son of sharecroppers James Moore and Mary Philips Moore. In 1917, Moore reported on …

Morgan, Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott Morgan (better known as W. Scott Morgan) lived in Arkansas for most of his life. As a writer, editor, lecturer, and political activist, he played an important role in farmers’ organizations and third-party politics at the state and national levels. Even after those organizations and parties disintegrated, Morgan maintained true to his reformist ideals, as evidenced by his published writings well into the twentieth century. Born on August 25, 1851, in Columbus, Ohio, W. Scott Morgan moved with his family to Chillicothe, Missouri, when he was fourteen. Four years later, he married Retta Gilliland, with whom he would have five children. Morgan initially supported his family by teaching school for an annual salary of $200. He also began …