Racism, Railroad Unions, and Labor Regulations


Unlike earlier generations of labor historians, the current generation recognizes that racism suffused, and to some extent even motivated, organized labor from the post-Civil War period through at least the late 1930s. However, labor historians continue to largely ignore the significant role "progressive" labor laws played in giving racist labor unions the power to exclude African-Americans and other minorities from the labor market. This article, based on chapter 3 of my book, "Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal" (Duke University Press 2001), discusses how labor laws granting railroad unions monopoly power — especially the Railway Labor Act — were crucial to the exclusion of African-Americans from many railroad occupations.