Digitizing the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records

In May 2021, Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) began a three year grant project with Georgia State University’s Southern Labor Archive – “Advancing Workers Rights in the American South: Digitizing the Records of the AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Division.”

SCUA will digitize and make accessible online approximately 45 linear feet (or 20-25%) from the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records (listed below), as well as 20 – 16mm films from the AFL-CIO Labor Film collection.  Georgia State University’s Special Collections & Archives will be digitizing 119 linear feet and some audio recordings from the Records from the AFL-CIO’s Southern Area Director’s Office Civil Rights Division for online access.  This project is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  For more details about the grant award visit CLIR’s list of 2020 funded projects and the University of Maryland Libraries’ announcement.

The CIO was first to take on racism in the unions when they created the Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination in 1942 (renamed the Civil Rights Committee in 1953) chaired by James B. Carey.  The AFL did not create a formal Civil Rights Department until they merged with the CIO in 1955.  During the 1940s and 1950s Boris Shishkin the AFL’s chief economist was the point of contact for civil rights issues.  AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department directors were: Boris Shishkin (1955-1964), Donald Slaiman (1964-1974), William Pollard (1974-1986), and Richard Womack (1986-1996/2003).  Many of the records involve the directors’ civil rights work such as: investigations of employment discrimination, school desegregation, fair employment practices, housing discrimination, and disseminating information about civil rights issues.

Archivist Jen Eidson in the Special Collections stacks area with boxes she’s preparing for digitization, Fall 2021.

During the first year of the grant, we carefully finalized a selection of collection materials for digitization.  The materials cover the years 1943-2000 and include: Departmental and Administrative Correspondence; Subject Files; Public Statements; selected files from State and Local Organizations and State and Local Central Bodies; selected Trade Union files; selected Area Wide Apprenticeship files; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights records, selected materials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Urban League records, and the records of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.  

Discrimination case files will also be digitized for the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), Sleeping Car Porters, Retail and Wholesale Union, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  In addition, discrimination cases’ compliance dockets and summary reports will be digitized which include all unions. 

Note 1: Form of union name reflects name found in the archival documents, and may be different than the current union name.

Note 2: The case files are extensive, and while we won’t be able to digitize all of them with this grant, we recognize their importance and invite researchers to consult them in the Maryland Room.

In 2021 films and manuscript materials were pulled from the stacks and prepared to send to a vendor for digitization.  Collection descriptions and folder titles were also reviewed for any possible harmful language and edited as needed; some were flagged to review more in depth later.  Each folder will be labeled with a unique number for tracking purposes that will be used both by the digitization vendor and our Digital Services and Technology staff.  Once the materials are digitized, the next steps will be quality assurance, and enhancing and refining metadata for ingest into UMD’s Digital Collections.  The digitized content will also be discoverable in the Digital Library of Georgia, the Civil Rights Digital Library, Digital Public Library of America, and Umbra Search Engine for African American History, as well as keyword searchable.  

During most of 2022, these materials will not be available for use by researchers.  We know it is inconvenient, but long-term online access will benefit many in the near future – so please bear with us!  

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records (0044-LBR-RG9-001)

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Discrimination Case Files (0054-LBR-RG9-002)

AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records (0068-LBR-RG9-003)

AFL-CIO Southern Area Civil Rights Department records (L1989-17)

Learn more about our Labor Collections:

Explore all Labor Collections

Online Exhibit: For Liberty, Justice and Equality: Unions Making History in America

Please contact us by sending an email to askhornbake@umd.edu if you have any questions about this grant project.  Follow us on social media (@hornbakelibrary) for more behind the scenes updates!


Jen Eidson is a Special Collections Processing Archivist in the University of Maryland Libraries.

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