Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"To Secure Improvements in Their Material and Social Conditions": Atlanta’s Civil Rights Movement, Middle-Class Reformers, and Workplace Protests, 1960-1977
by LaShier, William Seth, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2020, 473; 27662764
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores how middle-class black activists and reformers participated in protests to open up and improve workplaces for black workers in Atlanta in the 1960s and 1970s. While middle-class activists and reformers achieved some limited victories in these workplace protests, just as often the campaigns ended in defeats. There were significant obstacles to improving black worker rights and benefits in the form of recalcitrant employers and business-friendly politicians in Sunbelt Atlanta, but there were also important limitations in how middle-class activists and reformers approached these campaigns. This dissertation considers how middle-class activists understood issues of workplace and economic injustice and what strategies and tactics were best to bring about change. This dissertation also pays particular attention to the relationship between middle-class reformers and labor unions, both in the private and public sector. At times, black activists attempted to form a civil rights-labor coalition, at other times activists challenged discriminatory policies of labor unions and viewed unions as a hindrance to their goals. Scholars working in the framework of the Long Civil Rights Movement often emphasize how little the fight for economic justice played in the classical period of the civil rights movement (1954-1965). This dissertation, however seeks to add to a growing body of scholarship that emphasizes the persistence of the economic dimension of the civil rights movement by focusing on protests, boycotts, and strikes to improve Atlanta’s workplaces. Middle-class black Atlantans led boycotts to compel employers to hire and promote more black workers and supported strikes by workers seeking better working conditions, improved pay and benefits, and union recognition. Middle-class black activists and reformers, however, rarely viewed workplace protests as their number one priority, nor were workplace issues or labor organizing campaigns alone a real concern for these activists. Instead, activists and reformers acted when they viewed a workplace campaign as fitting into their larger vision of the black freedom struggle.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Arnesen, Eric
Commitee: Chapman, Erin, Mantler, Gordon, Osman, Suleiman, McCartin, Joseph
School: The George Washington University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 81/7(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, African American Studies, Labor relations, Labor economics, Black history, Black studies
Keywords: 1960s Atlanta, Civil Rights, Labor unions, Public sector labor unions, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Sunbelt Atlanta, 1970s Atlanta
Publication Number: 27662764
ISBN: 9781392768129
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