A Working People: A History of African American Workers Since Emancipation

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In this book, historian Steven A. Reich examines the economic, political and cultural forces that have beaten and built America’s black workforce since Emancipation. From the abolition of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement and Great Recession, African Americans have faced a unique set of obstacles and prejudices on their way to becoming a productive and indispensable portion of the American workforce. Repeatedly denied access to the opportunities all Americans are to be afforded under the Constitution, African Americans have combined decades of collective action and community mobilization with the trailblazing heroism of a select few to pave their own way to prosperity. This latest installment of the African American History Series challenges the notion that racial prejudices are buried in our nation’s history, and instead provides a narrative connecting the struggles of many generations of African American workers to those felt the present day. Reich provides an unblinking account of what being an African American worker has meant since the 1860s, alluding to ways in which we can and must learn from our past, for the betterment of all workers, however marginalized they may be. A Working People: A History of African American Workers Since Emancipation is as factually astute as it is accessibly written, a tapestry of over 150 years of troubled yet triumphant African American labor history that we still weave today.

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Editorial Reviews

Eric Arnesen
Understanding that political equality and meaningful civic participation required a firm economic foundation, African Americans waged their long struggle for civil rights not just at the ballot box and the realm of public accommodations but in the the workplace and union hall as well. Too often, however, the crucial economic dimension of the freedom struggle has been neglected or minimized in standard accounts. In A Working People: A History of African American Workers Since Emancipation, Steven Reich effectively redresses this problem. He offers readers a compelling, sophisticated and comprehensive account of black workers’ struggles to open up jobs, achieve economic mobility, and participate fully in the nation’s economy. This is an indispensible book for anyone seeking to understand the full scope of the movements for civil rights since the era of emancipation.
William P. Jones
With this masterful synthesis, Steven Reich shows how black workers overcame tremendous barriers to shape the United States in the century following emancipation.
Beth T. Bates
In this masterful synthesis, Reich shines the spotlight on African Americans as workers seeking racial and economic justice in the century and a half since the abolition of slavery. More than a labor history, Reich shows how the impulse to make a living and a life as equal and full participants in American society has been intimately connected to the larger black freedom movement. This clearly written, accessible history helps explain why the struggle for racial economic equality is not over.
The title and subtitle of this book say it all. This concisely written history of African American workers recounts the slow progress and many reversals of a people willing to work but consistently denied access to decent working conditions, decent remuneration, vocational education, and the opportunity to advance on the job. In short, it is the story of a people denied the American Dream. Reich (James Madison Univ.; author of Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, 2006) divides the time line for his work into the post-Civil War era; the introduction of Jim Crow and the resurgence of white supremacy; the migration from the agrarian South to the industrial North; the Depression and WW II; post-WW II and Korea: and the trials and struggles of the civil rights era. A subtheme of the book is the rise and diminution of the economic rights of America's working class. Nothing of note is lacking from Reich's account. This work is a perfect supplement for classes in race and ethnicity, labor history, and diversity. Of special interest is the 'Documents' section, which contains contemporaneous narratives and interviews of those who watched these events transpire. Excellent notes and a selected bibliography. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels of undergraduate students; general readers.
The Journal of American Culture
In 1982, William H. Harris published The Harder We Run, a concise narrative of black workers since the end of slavery that has been used in scores of undergraduate labor and African American history courses. Steven Reich’s A Working People is a worthy successor to Harris’s outdated work. It is a didactic, accessible overview of African American workers since emancipation, which provides a solid base for general readers and suggestive research possibilities for those wishing to probe more deeply. A strong bibliographic essay and thirty-six pages of primary source documents bolster research efforts.
Paul Ortiz
Reich has structured this book wisely. He clearly understands how to frame historical arguments in a way that will encourage discussion and debate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442203327
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/12/2013
  • Series: African American History Series
  • Pages: 244
  • Sales rank: 637,333
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven A. Reich (PhD, Northwestern) is associate professor of history at James Madison University and the editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One
Emancipation and the Politics of Black Labor

Chapter Two
Jim Crow’s Black Workers

Chapter Three
The Great Black Labor Migration

Chapter Four
A New Deal for Black Workers

Chapter Five
The Black Working-Class Movement for Civil Rights

Chapter Six
Opening the American Workplace


Selected Bibliography

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