The Challenge of Interracial Unionism: Alabama Coal Miners, 1878-1921

Synopsis

This study explores a tradition of interracial unionism that persisted in the coal fields of Alabama from the dawn of the New South through the turbulent era of World War I. Daniel Letwin focuses on the forces that prompted black and white miners to collaborate in the labor movement even as racial segregation divided them in nearly every other aspect of their lives.

Letwin examines a series of labor campaigns conducted under the banners of the Greenback-Labor party, the Knights of Labor, and, most extensively, the United Mine Workers whose interracial character came into growing conflict with the southern racial order. This tension gives rise to the book's central question: to what extent could the unifying potential of class withstand the divisive pressure of race?

Arguing that interracial unionism in the New South was much more complex and ambiguous than is generally recognized, Letwin offers a story of both promise and failure, as a movement crossing the color line alternately transcended and succumbed to the gathering hegemony of Jim Crow.

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