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South Carolina - Orangeburg: Isaiah Bennett Interviewee [Part 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Isaiah Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina. Bennett talks about union activities in Charleston, including the Tobacco Strike of 1945. He talks about the atmosphere of South Carolina regarding unionization. It is not as unionized currently as he would like to see. He talks about his time with the American Tobacco Company and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union, for which he served as both vice president and president. He discusses the AFL and CIO, before they merged. He was part of the CIO, but they withdrew to for the Food Tobacco and Allied Workers. White workers joined Blacked workers and helped them to gain success protesting, but they had separate White and Black leaders. His father's work in McClellanville, South Carolina is in part what drew him to become involved in union work. His father's job was to light the Coast Guard buoy by hand with a torch. They were both members of Morris Brown AME Church. His father encouraged him to unionize. Bennett explains how he became involved in the Charleston Hospital Workers' Strike of 1969 and the events that led up to it. He knew it would be more difficult that his previous experience, but that they had to start somewhere. The more the hospital workers met, the more complaints they had. Dr. McCord would not address their complaints. The Concerned Clergymen became involved, led by Catholic Fathers Joyce and Duffy, Reverend Grady, Father Morris Brown of the AME Church, Reverend Newman, Francis Brown of the United Methodist Church, and Reverend Sharp of the Fourth Baptist Church. The mayor was communicative and tried to get Dr. McCord to meet with them. They called in the Local 1199 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers union from New York, who had experience negotiating with hospitals. Leon Davis was the president of the Local 1199. Max Greenburg was the national president. Bennett had gone to New York to meet with Davis before they came down. The firing of twelve workers is what really made the strike take off. The community responded to the complaints. They organized marches and received news coverage. They left from churches and walked toward downtown on King Street, where they held a prayer meeting in the street. They defied the permits. They picketed many locations, including City Hall. When the situation escalated, the National Guard was called in and a 9:00 p.m. curfew was put in place. The law has now changed. At the time it was not stated in the law that the state and county could enter in to an agreement with the labor union. Other areas were organized as a result of the strike in Charleston. Other union activity in the state began as a result of the strike, although most of it was among White unions and did not affect them. Government leadership in Charleston was mostly White. They received a lot of support from the Longshoremen, who are mostly Black. Textile workers also offered support. He explains the various unions and how they have changed. Bennett thinks that the proximity of Black colleges in Orangeburg and Columbia have hurt the community of Charleston. People are forced to leave for college and do not return. He discusses the work done by Esau Jenkins and Septima Clark. At the time, the NAACP was led by Delbert Woods and J. Arthur Brown and the union was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Bennett says they were not working together for a common cause, but looking for money and prestige at the expense of the workers.
African AmericansCivil rightsCivil rights demonstrationsLabor unionsFamilyMedical personnelHospitalsDemonstrationsJenkins, Esau, 1910-1972
Charleston (S.C.)McClellanville (S.C.)
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 147, Item 13, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright Laws.