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Who was Booker T. Washington?



Workers Unite!



A sugarcane sweet memory

Here's something to think about. You've been working really hard for the same company for the past 12 years and have never gotten a pay raise. Working conditions are terrible. To top it all off, your boss is a bully.

What would you do? Sit back and let it happen? Or unite with your fellow workers and protest?

To strike or not to strike - this is the dilemma workers have faced throughout our nation's history. It is not an easy decision to make. There is always a chance workers could lose their jobs or worse if they hold an organized protest. If they do nothing, things will never change.

Dozens of sugarcane workers drowned in these bayous in 1887

If there was ever a group that needed to strike, it was our nation's former slaves after the Civil War. Slavery had officially ended by the early 1880s, but the oppression of blacks had not. Workers on plantations were still treated badly and were paid very little for hard work.


Sugar-cane workers in southern Louisiana, for example, were given big machetes and sent to the fields. Each worker was expected to clear several acres a day under the blazing sun for very low wages. They were still treated poorly by planters.

One sugarcane worker could clear several acres a day

In 1887, Sugarcane workers began to organize. With the help of the Knights of Labor they demanded more money from planters. When planters refused, thousands of workers went on strike - they stopped working. The planters were furious.

Stephanie frolics through the sugarcane

Thus began the standoff between planters and laborers. The Sugar Planters Association called in the state militia. Then came the first freeze of the year, which badly damaged the uncut cane. This was the last straw for the planters. The first shots rang out the following night, and when it was over, 30 black workers were dead.

This massacre is a frightening example of the risks that workers used to take when they went on strike. The workers had to return to the fields and toil under the conditions set by the planters. Had the workers gained anything by striking?

Stephanie visits the American Sugar Cane League

They inspired other groups of African American workers. They began to organize themselves. The Colored Farmer's Alliance was founded in Texas to address the concerns of black farmers. It became the largest African American organization of the time, with 1.2 million members. They adopted the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Its accomplishments included raising money for longer public school terms and starting a newspaper. The Sugarcane workers helped people realize that workers had to organize to get what they wanted.


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Kevin - Thanks for the memories!
Teddy - It's hard to say good-bye, but farewell it is