The Workers and the Organizers: Black Women’s Labor, Working-Class Politics, and Economic Violence in St. Louis, 1917–45

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:50 AM
Centennial Ballroom G (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Keona Ervin, University of Missouri–Columbia
Keona K. Ervin will examine the history of economic violence and labor militancy in early-twentieth-century St. Louis through the prism of black working-class women’s labor. Deeply embedded within overlapping, subjugating economic forces that threatened their survival and access to a “decent living,” black working-class women placed a premium on economic justice. Their low economic status and the politics connected to this status carried profound political and social capital within St. Louis’s “working-class inflected” black freedom struggle. Relegated to the fringes of the St. Louis labor market, which leaders and owners governed according to “cheap labor” policies and practices, black working-class women transformed their work into a site of resistance. It was through the process by which black working-class women marked their work as a site of political contestation that the racial and economic dimensions of St. Louis’s geopolitical liminality found sharp articulation. The counternarratives and politics that working-class black women generated indelibly marked struggles for black freedom and economic justice, highlighting St. Louis’s status as a battleground for struggles over economic dignity.