On This Day in 1943: White Workers Riot After Black Workers Promoted in Mobile, Alabama

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tags: racism, labor, Employment Discrimination, World War 2, shipbuilding

On May 25, 1943, a riot broke out at the Alabama Dry Dock Shipping Company after 12 African Americans were promoted to “highly powered” positions.

The Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company built and maintained U.S. Navy Ships during World War I and World War II. During World War II, the company was the largest employer in Mobile. In 1941, the company began hiring African American men in unskilled positions. By 1943, Mobile shipyards employed 50,000 workers and African American men and women held 7,000 of those jobs. Though small, this increase in black employees did not please white workers.

In the spring of 1943, in response to President Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Committee issuing directives to elevate African Americans to skilled positions, as well as years of pressure from local black leaders and the NAACP, the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company reluctantly agreed to promote twelve black workers to the role of welder -- a position previously reserved for white employees.

Shortly after the new welders finished their first shift, an estimated 4,000 white shipyard workers and community members armed with pipes, clubs, and other dangerous weapons attacked any black employee they could find. Two black men were thrown into the Mobile River by the mobs, while others jumped in to escape serious injury. The National Guard was called to restore order; although no one was killed, more than fifty people were seriously injured, and several weeks passed before African American workers could safely return to work.

Read entire article at Equal Justice Initiative

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