Backlist Spotlight: ‘Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW’

by Phillip Witteveen on June 3, 2014

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Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW has long been recognized “essential reading for historians of labor and race in America,” and with the current interest in Detroit as well as labor issues nationwide, August Meier and Elliott Rudwick’s seminal title may be worth another look. The book began as an isolated case of the NAACP’s involvement with organized labor: the 1941 United Auto Worker’s strike against the Ford Motor Company. This strike, remembered as a crucial stage in the Association’s concern with economic issues and cooperation with unions, was only the impressive looking tip of the iceberg. “As our research proceeded,” wrote Meier and Rudwick, “there unfolded a far more important story—an incredibly rich and complex account of the transformation in the relations between a black community and organized labor in a major industrial city.”

Meier and Rudwick’s study focused on Detroit, the best representative of this transformation because the UAW’s unique position at the time. The UAW, “in the vanguard of the labor movement and indeed of the larger American society in its support for black aspirations,” made its struggle in the factory a struggle for civil rights in a way that so few of its contemporary organizations did. The detailed analysis of this historic relationship, Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW, is available now.

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