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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Father's union activities and connections to the civil rights movement

Moore describes her father's participation in union activism. Moore's father worked for the Birmingham Tank Company while she was growing up during the 1950s and 1960s. Moore recalls how it was common for both fathers and mothers to work outside of the home in African American families in her neighborhood and that the community often banded together in order to help one another through trying times. In addition, she explains that her father believed that unionization would eventually help to break color barriers in the workplace by providing better opportunities for African American workers. Moore sees important connections between the labor movement and the civil rights movement, arguing that the union was one of the most integrated spaces during those years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
What did your parents do here in Birmingham?
MARY MOORE:
My father worked at one of the plants in North Birmingham. My mother, during that time, my mother was a maid at the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. Most of the time, like I said, during those days women, in my neighborhood for the most part, some of them had to work, we were all poor. Men worked. Women stayed at home and took care of the children until they got to be a certain age. That's when most women would move out and go to work in different places. Prior to then my mother was a stay-at-home mom until all of us got in school. Once all of us got in school then she went out to work.
SARAH THUESEN:
What plant was your dad at?
MARY MOORE:
Birmingham Tank Company. It's located now in Pascagoula, Mississippi. They build these huge tanks that go underground for different things. I guess for water, oil or whatever.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was your dad ever involved in labor organizing?
MARY MOORE:
Yes. My daddy was union. My daddy was union and the thing is when they unionized his company, when they said strike. He struck.
SARAH THUESEN:
Which union was he—?
MARY MOORE:
I don't remember the local but it was a part of AFL-CIO. They unionized. A few companies managed to get unionized during those days. Like in North Birmingham, you had Sloss Industries and Sloss was unionized. Birmingham Tank Company was unionized. ACIPCO [American Cast Iron Pipe Company], which is still one of the major companies, never unionized. Their company was thoroughly unionized. I remember the strikes when they went on strikes for better pay, better conditions and things. You just go up and take him his lunch while he sitting on the picket line. They make their little fire and sit there days on and days in. Originally, when they would start having to—before the food stamp era in the South—people in the neighborhood just help you out. If your father worked at one of the companies and it was a unionized company and those companies went on strike, people in the neighborhood made sure you had food to eat. We all kind of merged together. All of us was in basically the same economic condition which we didn't know it was poor at that time. From a child's perspective, everything was going okay. People in the neighborhood made sure that you didn't go hungry. Somebody always stepped in and made sure the rent was paid. The union did as much as they could then. Everything from a child's perspective was okay.
SARAH THUESEN:
Do you remember you dad talking about why union membership was really important to him?
MARY MOORE:
During that time when you realize that most jobs, blacks had never been supervisors. They always had to do the hardest part of the job. His thing was it was an opportunity. First of all, unions came in and if you are in a unionized facility you could get better pay. You can get better pay. You can have the opportunity that the union would eventually fight for you to get a better position, even though during those segregated times it was difficult. The union, in its own way was a part of the Civil Rights Movement. What the union did, it made sure that whether you are black, white, pink or blue, you share a similar income. That was one of his things. He was die hard union. He could see the advances made as far as pay and working conditions once the union came into his plant.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was his union fairly integrated in terms of—?
MARY MOORE:
During that time, even though it was fairly integrated, you still had the white bath house, the black bath house. All of them stood on the picket line. All of them built that one little fire that they all sat around because everybody was in the same situation. When you go back and you look, that probably was the most integrated part of American life, was those members of the union. They all were fighting together to improve their quality of life. It seems as though it broke down color barriers.