Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Color of Work: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Southern Paper Industry, 1945-1980

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Color of Work: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Southern Paper Industry, 1945-1980

Article excerpt

The Color of Work: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Southern Paper Industry, 1945-1980. By Timothy J. Minchin. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Pp ix, 277. Acknowledgments, abbreviations, introduction, conclusion, notes, bibliography, index. $55.00, cloth; $24.95, paper.)

Timothy Minchin has now completed his second book based on the rich trove of material found in the records of Title VII lawsuits filed during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Whereas his first book on African-American workers focused on textiles (Hiring the Black Worker: The Racial Integration of the Southern Textile Industry [1999]), his latest offering turns its attention to another important southern industry: paper mills. Unlike textile manufacturers, who had for the most part completely excluded black workers up until the 1970s, employers in the paper industry had a long history of hiring African Americans. And in contrast to the largely union-free textile industry, paper mills were one of the most thoroughly organized industries in the South. Despite these differences, however, the story of integration in both these cases is strikingly similar.

Before the 1960s, African Americans were confined to the dirtiest and most undesirable jobs in the industry. Minchin points out that about 15 percent of jobs in the paper industry were classified as laboring positions in 1960, which roughly corresponded with the 14 percent of workers who were black. This situation was similar to that found in tobacco, steel, and textiles, as described in Minchin's earlier work and in studies by Judith Stein, Robert Korstad, and Nelson Lichtenstein.

Unionism in the paper industry also replicated the segregated pattern found in steel and tobacco. According to Minchin, the segregation of locals had both positive and negative consequences. Since each union was granted jurisdiction over certain jobs, occupational segregation became enshrined in the union contract and white locals continually refused to support blacks in their efforts to gain more job opportunities. On the other hand, separate black locals provided a forum for African Americans to voice their complaints against the system. In many paper mill communities, the leading activists in the civil rights movement were presidents of black locals. …

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