In May 1969, Black hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina, mostly women, went on strike to gain recognition for their union and to demand workplace fairness. This past weekend, surviving members of the strike gathered in Washington, D.C. in memoriam and to give a push to the renewed efforts of the Poor People’s Campaign.
The first action by the workers occurred on May 17, 1969 when Black workers in the city occupied the office of President William McCord at the Medical College Hospital. Although McCord agreed to hear their demands, they dispersed under threat of arrest. At the end, 12 workers were arrested for abandoning their posts but that only served to galvanize the group.
The Local 1199B Retail Drug and Hospital Employees Union gathered across the city, bringing operations at area hospitals to a standstill. They enjoyed the support of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, and Rev. Jesse Jackson among other notable members of the SCLC, which drew national media attention. Although their efforts did not gain recognition for the union, it proved that Black unions within the labor movement could have tremendous impact.
This weekend’s march in D.C. included members of the original group who are protesting for various reasons, including the South Carolina National Guard being sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. They also are protesting for fair wages and equal housing opportunities as Charleston’s gentrification threatens to push many young people of color outside of the city.
The latest group also has joined with the Poor People’s Campaign, currently led by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theohairs, continuing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign ahead of his untimely assassination in 1968.
PHOTO: YouTube Screenshot
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