Featured Collection: Frontlash records

Frontlash was an activist group, led by young adults, instrumental in increasing voting and political engagement among American youth and minorities. Frontlash also served as a training ground for future personnel in the labor movement. It was created as a nonpartisan organization to challenge political and electoral apathy among youth in the 1960s.

Frontlash staffer handing out registration material

Frontlash stepped up their voter education efforts for young people when the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971. The organization sent members door-to-door, created poster displays, and set up public stands on sidewalks and college campuses to encourage wider political education and to register young voters. Later, they expanded their activities beyond voting rights to include international democracy and fair labor practices, such as child labor, apartheid, minimum wage, and workers rights.

This collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support, as well as significant material relating to Frontlash’s political activity. Types of records include organizational records, financial records, minutes, mission statements, reports, and photographs.

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Featured Collection: The Committee on Political Education

The AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) was founded in 1955 to encourage workers to participate in political life. COPE conducted research into legislative issues and politicians, organized grass-roots mobilization efforts to track the voting records of state and local legislators, interviewed and screened candidates running for office, and made endorsement recommendations to the AFL-CIO. COPE also worked directly with candidates for political office by providing financial contributions to those supportive of worker’s rights.

COPE representative talking to two people in front of a COPE poster that says "Give a buck to COPE"

Focusing on union members and their families, COPE led registration drives, prepared public relations and education campaigns, and created and distributed publications about candidates and their positions on the issues affecting workers’ lives, such as health care, pension benefits, and safe working conditions.

The materials consists of correspondence, voting statistics, printed materials, and clippings pertaining to election campaigns, politicians, and political issues. While COPE may have compiled voting statistics and published some of the printed material, this collection contains mostly secondary material issued by others and collected by office staff.

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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.

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Featured collection: AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records

The AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department was established “to encourage all workers without regard to race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry to share equally in the full benefits of union organization.” The department investigated complaints of discrimination at work and actively to addressed issues of fair employment, housing discrimination and school discrimination. They created and distributing informational pamphlets, holding conferences, and working with federal agencies and independent civil rights organizations.

The AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records include correspondence, press releases, reports, subject files and interviews, primarily from the 1960s through the 1980s. The topics in this collection cover all the activities conducted by the Civil Rights Department.

Explore the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records finding aid

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

A “Complex and Multi-Talented Man”: Exploring the Fascinating and Complicated Legacy of Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin speaking at Solidarity Day, September 19, 1981, https://digital.lib.umd.edu/resultsnew/id/umd:687295

As Pride month comes to a close, the Meany Labor Archive wanted to highlight the life and legacy of one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s close advisors and mentors, gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. In one of our last blog posts, co-written with University Archives, we explored the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, specifically his ties to the labor movement. A key figure in the Civil Rights movement, Rustin advised Martin Luther King, Jr on nonviolent protesting, and was a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. And while the March on Washington is commonly considered one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in United States history, the largest demonstration was actually a system-wide school boycott in New York City, beginning on February 3, 1964. Over 360,000 elementary and secondary students went on strike, with many of them attending “freedom schools” that opened up around the city. And who did local leaders recruit to guide the protests? None other than Bayard Rustin. As the lead organizer for the strike, Rustin immediately solicited volunteers and met with church and community leaders to obtain their commitment to organize their membership for the strike. On February 3rd, 464,361 students did not show up for school. In freezing temperatures, picket lines formed outside 300 school buildings, and over 3,000 students marched with signs reading “Jim Crow Must Go!,” “We Demand Quality Education!,” and “We Shall Overcome!” And although the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) never publicly endorsed the strike, nearly 10% of teachers were absent, and the union supported teachers who refused to cross the picket line. The day after the strike, Rustin declared that it was the “largest civil rights protest in the nation’s history.” Prior to organizing two of the largest civil rights demonstrations in United States history, Rustin also played an important role in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which challenged racial injustice through the usage of “Gandhian nonviolence.” As a member of CORE, Rustin trained and led groups in actions against segregation throughout the 1940s. 

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Bakery Union Split and Merger: Expanded Description Sheds Light on Union’s History…and more!

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) records are a major archival labor collection in the University of Maryland’s Special Collections & University Archives.  Our archives staff spent some time the last few years reviewing this collection to make it more accessible for both staff and the public.  In about 1982 the first records from the union were processed.  Over the course of the next three decades, another 40 accessions of records were given to the archives, but they remained unprocessed. The result of our recent review is an additional 490 linear feet of inventoried material dating from 1886 to 2016 that was previously difficult to navigate, search, and serve in the Maryland Room.  This material is now minimally processed and boxes are available to request and view in the Maryland Room.

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s Radical Activism

In April of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged as an organization for young Black activists, particularly those who were participating in student-led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the Southeast. 

Its founder Ella Baker, formerly employed with the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), believed that SCLC did not allow enough space for Black women and was out of touch with younger, more radical Black activists. Baker intended the Committee as a way to implement direct-action challenges to segregation and voter suppression in the U.S., and it eventually grew to be one of the most radical branches of the civil rights movement (its members were known within the civil rights movement as the “shock troops of the revolution”). Her work for the NAACP in the 1940s provided SNCC with a network of activists, including Bob Moses and Amzie Moore. With help from Moses and Moore, SNCC organized its first Voter Registration Project in the summer of 1960. 

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AFL-CIO Films on YouTube!

We now have 40 short films from our AFL-CIO film collection uploaded to George Meany Labor Archives playlist on the Hornbake Library YouTube channel! Many of these films were digitized as part of the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History In America,” exhibit. This post intends to expand and explore upon a selection of films that we not only think are interesting, but also contextually relevant to the present day.

The first of these films is “CORE: Freedom Ride,” 1961, Presented by the Social Action Commission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Narrated by James Farmer, National Director of CORE and founder of the Freedom Rides, this film recounts the experiences of Freedom Riders shortly after the rides ended in December 1961. This film includes footage from the Freedom Rides, and testimony from Freedom Riders Jim Peck, Albert Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes.

You can view all the videos in the George Meany Labor Archives playlist and explore more from the Labor history collections online. Have a question? Contact us!