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Title:The specter of Black labor: African American workers in Illinois before the Great Migration, 1847 to 1910
Author(s):Ward, Alonzo M
Director of Research:Cha-Jua, Sundiata K.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Cha-Jua, Sundiata K.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Burgos Jr., Adrian; McDuffie, Erik; Lang, Clarence
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):African American history
Labor history
Illinois history
Abstract:The Specter of Black Labor is interested in examining the actions, reactions and opinions of Afro-Illinoisans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in relation to their own position as laborers. While previous studies on Black workers in Illinois focus heavily on African Americans and their relationship to the larger labor movement of this period, the goal in this project is to view these workers primarily through the lens of the African American experience. By deemphasizing the role of white workers and the labor movement in general, this project seeks to unearth previously muffled voices within the relatively small Black communities throughout Illinois during the largely understudied period prior to the Great Migration. By utilizing a racial formation theoretical framework, this project seeks to provide a foundation for a critical examination of race as it acquires different meanings, depending on specific historic circumstances. The contention here is that the process of racializing labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries affected not only the type of labor Black people could procure, it also systematically eliminated them from the larger labor movement and virtually forced them into “anti-labor” roles such as strikebreaking. As the labor movement gained significant momentum throughout Illinois, Black workers faced with the decision to be a part of the labor movement was not easy—while other workers contended with nineteenth century labor issues such as unionization, better working conditions and the eight hour work day, Black workers were also entangled within a struggle for citizenship, voting rights, and the right to work and live where they chose. Thus, like other workers, Afro-Illinoisans struggled to adjust to the modernization of the late nineteenth century workplace. Yet they were also compelled to adjust to a system of racialization within a workplace that castigated them as stereotypically ineffectual workers that would somehow degrade the labor of European American workers. This process resulted in frequent conflicts with European American workers who, in their effort to secure their own tenuous position as laborers within the political economy, competed against Black workers for even the lowliest occupations. The devastating consequence of this racialization process in the workplace by the end of the turn of the twentieth century led to the idea that Afro-Illinoisans were anti-union and unsympathetic to the plight of the rights of all workers.
Issue Date:2017-04-21
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Alonzo Ward
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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