On April 20, 2013 nearly 200 people celebrated the unveiling of a North Carolina state historic marker commemorating the Local union mobilizing efforts that challenged the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1940s Winston-Salem, NC. The movement began on June 17, 1943 with the initial sit-down and refusal to work protest following the sudden death of tobacco factory worker James McCardell. From then, the movement fought for wage increases and improved workplace conditions, led by African American men and women. This marker was dedicated in a ceremony at Fourth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
In the News
Huffington Post: “By organizing strikes and campaigns, Local 22 won job security, wage increases and other benefits for workers, YesWeekly reported. To this day, the union had received little recognition, even though experts credit the organization with paving the way for Winston-Salem’s black middle class, Journal Now points out.”
Winston-Salem Journal: “The legacy of the Local 22 union at R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co. in the 1940s is as proud as the Journal’s coverage fo the union is regrettable… But more than 65 years later, we’re in many ways a better newspaper, just as Winston-Salem is in many ways a better place, where more voices are heard. Those behind the push to honor Local 22 include members of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, Occupy Winston-Salem, labor organizers, social-justice activists and elected officials. Cheers to their proud effort.”
Labor and Working-Class History Association: “Even though as the North Carolina legislature erects barriers to economic and political justice, a group of journalists, historians and activist managed to erect an official historical marker to recognize the quest for interracial justice that took place in an earlier period, a quest that built the foundations of civil rights in the state.
The marker is only one sentence long, “Tobacco Unionism: Strike by leaf workers, mostly black and female, June 17, 1943, 1/2 mile west, led to seven years of labor and civil rights activism by Local 22.” I hope it will be enough to prompt readers to access the fuller account in Robert Korstad’s Civil Rights Unionism, a remarkable story of the forging of community activism, political activism, democratic participation, with an aim for full emancipation and economic justice – all within the union movement, and years before the usual dating of the civil rights movement.”