|Vol. 15 No. 18
SEPTEMBER 7, 2020
Columns & Features
by Heidi M. Pascual
by Jamala Rogers
by Jonathan Gramling
|Reuther Elementary School?
About 15 years ago or so — I think it was around the time when Chavez Elementary School was named — I
suggested that the name of Samuel Gompers Elementary School be changed because Gompers had resisted
and opposed many people of color entering the skilled trades. In essence, Gompers kept the skilled trade
unions “equal, but separate.” A school official labeled me as a troublemaker at the time.
by Jamala Rogers
|The Latino Professionals Association
Kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month with
|The Hues Latino
The following is from an article by the late Hubert Hill who was labor leader for the NAACP for many years and a professor in the UW-
Madison Afro American Studies Department:
“At the 1901 convention of the AFL, the Resolutions Committee denounced the Chinese as “people of vice and sexual immorality” who were of
“inferior social standards.” Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, observed that the “Negro slaves of the South were as a race kind and faithful,” but the “Chinese as
a race are cruel and treacherous." In his memoir, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, Gompers later expressed his belief in “the principle that maintenance of the nation
depended upon maintenance of racial purity.” He also recalled his vigorous support for Mayor E. Z. Schmitz of San Francisco, “a labor candidate and elected on a
labor platform [who] began the work of segregating Japanese children from white children in the public schools. Throughout the Gompers period, the AFL continued
to uphold a racist position.”
I suggested the name change because the percentage of students of color at Gompers was steadily increasing and I thought it was a spiritual symbol of racism that
had become so normalized that people had forgotten — or didn’t care about — the racist foundation of a naming. The naming of a building is highly prized in our
community for people donate millions of dollars for the naming rights of public buildings these days.
While I truly believe that buildings should be named after union and working people, I felt the naming of a school after Gompers had lived its course and that the
school should be named after another strong labor leader who exhibited more of an anti-racist philosophy. One possibility is A. Philip Randolph who organized the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African American labor union. Randolph was also instrumental in getting the armed services desegregated
under President Truman and led the organizing of the 1963 March on Washington. A. Philip Randolph would an excellent choice.
And then I began to toy with the idea of the naming going to another Euro-American labor leader who had exhibited an anti-racist philosophy. And I thought about
Walter Reuther — whom some historians including Herbert Hill felt had a less than stellar anti-racist career.
Reuther was the head of the United Auto Workers Union from 1946-1970. If my memory serves me correctly, the United Auto Workers’ representation of their rank
and file led to hundreds of thousands of African American auto workers joining the middle class in Detroit and other cities where the auto industry had significant
While Reuther was an imperfect human being who was criticized by the left — including Herbert Hill — and the right, he was also very supportive of the civil rights
“On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Martin Luther King wrote a letter to union president Walter Reuther, congratulating him
and observing: “More than anyone else in America, you stand out as the shining symbol of democratic trade unionism,” according to the The Martin Luther King, Jr.
Research and Education Institute at Stanford. -- READ MORE