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

Steven A. Reich (Author)


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.

Product Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Publish Date
March 13, 2015
6.0 X 0.7 X 9.0 inches | 0.8 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About 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.


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.--Beth T. Bates, Professor Emerita, Wayne State University
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.--CHOICE