In the 1930s and 1940s, Minneapolis hotels employed two-thirds of all African-Americans working in the city. For black workers in Minneapolis, hotels were a site rife with contradictions: while these jobs offered prestige and union wages, they simultaneously drew upon hotel’s appeal to white customers’ slavery fantasy by promoting an atmosphere of racialized luxury. My research examines how narratives of respectability and racial uplift—generally at odds with the militant working-class politics of unions—became important for black hotel workers in Minneapolis, whose ability to conform to middle-class patriarchal norms was jeopardized by the submissive stereotypes promoted by hotels. Despite its status as a “Jim Crow local,” the all-black Hotel Employee and Restaurant Employee (HERE) Local 614 won significant wage increases for black waiters and represented a grassroots effort to participate in a labor movement that wanted to exclude them. Drawing from oral histories with the black leadership of Local 614 and its close ally, the integrated HERE Local 665, I argue that unions offered a few individuals an opportunity to rise from just another rank-and-file waiter to an influential leader. Leadership gained status both within a mostly white labor movement and the class-stratified black Minnesotan community, shaping the early civil rights movement in Minneapolis. The story of how these workers, mostly waiters in the dining rooms of the city’s finest hotels, deepens our understanding of the complicated position of black workers in the 1930-1940 labor movement by illuminating the diversity of the motivations and ideologies that informed black union leaders in Local 614 and Local 665.
Mielke, Luke, "Racial Uplift in a Jim Crow Local: Black Union Organizing in Minneapolis Hotels 1930-1940" (2016). American Studies Honors Projects. 15.
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