Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most African Americans in the southern United States were still unable to vote because of registration requirements such as literacy tests and slow registration processes. In Selma, Alabama the registration office was open only two days a month and could only process 15 registrations for each of these days. This was not nearly enough to register the 15,000 black citizens of voting age in the county.
In 1947, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) conducted a “Journey of Reconciliation” to direct attention toward racial segregation in public transportation in the Southern U.S.A. Although this initial freedom ride campaign was not regarded as a great success during its time, it inspired the 1961 Freedom Rides that fueled the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony of the New World was a Puritan theocratic state in the early 1650s. Puritan leaders did not have much tolerance for people of other religions, and as a result, the Puritan government often persecuted and banished religious outsiders who tried to enter and live in their Puritan towns. A fear was embedded in the Puritan society that if they started to admit outsiders, they would lose their political and religious control of the colony.
On April 4, 1985, seven students at Columbia University, members of the Coalition for a Free South Africa (CFSA), chained closed the doors to Columbia’s administrative building, Hamilton Hall, and sat on the steps, blockading the entrance. They were there to protest the University’s investments in corporations that operated in Apartheid South Africa. Soon after, a march coordinated by other members of CFSA passed by Hamilton Hall. When the marchers saw the small blockade on the steps, they rushed to join in.
By the mid-1980s, the Apartheid regime had been in control of South Africa for nearly 40 years. The country was in the midst of a national crisis, had declared a state of emergency, and over 5,000 people had been killed by the violence. Despite the African Nation Congress’ requests for international aid, specifically in the form of divestment, the United States (as well as many other powerful countries) resisted.
In the fall of 1997, students at Duke University formed the group Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) to push the Duke administration to create and adopt a code of conduct policy that would require the companies that manufactured Duke apparel and merchandise to uphold workers’ rights and eliminate the use of sweatshops.
By the late 1950s, civil rights activists were becoming frustrated with the slow pace of desegregation and integration in southern towns and businesses. Youth especially were impatient with white resistance and black adult leadership and urged organizations to adopt more active and militant strategies. In the spring of 1960, these students took matters into their own hands and started a movement that spread through not only North Carolina, but throughout the entire Jim Crow South as well.
The first wave of anti-sweatshop movements developed in the 1980s and focused on U.S. economic policy in South America. It was not until 1996 that the anti-sweatshop movement gained national media attention with the revelation that the actress Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line for Wal-Mart was sewn in Honduran sweatshops. The media coverage this received greatly increased awareness on U.S. outsourcing policies.
In Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960, Jim Crow laws were in widespread effect. Though the African-American Civil Rights Movement had led to some successful desegregation (notably within the school system thanks to Brown v. Board and Swann v. Charlotte), “separate but equal” was still the norm with respect to the vast majority of businesses in Greensboro, and the rest of the South.
In Houston, the largest cleaning companies paid their janitors an average of $5.25 per hour and did not provide health benefits. Meanwhile, in other cities the average salary for a janitor position was between $10-20 an hour and family health benefits were provided. The Service Employee’s International Union (SEIU), under the leadership of its president, Stephen Lerner, utilized the Justice for Janitors Campaign, which involved over 200,000 janitors in more than 28 cities across the United States, to fight to improve the working conditions and benefits for these workers.
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
- James Oppenheim (Used as the rallying cry for the movement)
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) formed the Local 399 shortly after World War II. The Local 399 was a labor union for janitors which had reached its peak in the 1970s, but was struggling in the 1980s. During this time, the Local 399 fought for higher wages for its members, which motivated cleaning contractors to invest in nonunion options. The cleaning industry was extremely competitive at the time and as a result of this emphasis on nonunion cleaners, membership in the Local 399 had fallen from approximately 5,000 members to only 1,800.
In 2006, non-unionized janitors at the University of Miami earned as little as $6.40 an hour and received no health insurance. Demanding higher wages and better working conditions, these janitors of mostly Haitian and Cuban descent began a campaign against the University of Miami with leadership from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The Dutch and British colonization of South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries brought a system of segregation to the region that remained in place well into the twentieth century. From 1948 to 1994 this took the form of apartheid, a system of legal racial segregation that ensured the continued rule of the country by the white minority.
In reaction to the continuing apartheid in South Africa, many colleges and universities in the United States divested from South Africa, meaning that they removed the holdings they had from companies which operated there. Apartheid separated blacks and whites; the whites, however, had a monopoly on power and had much higher living standards. Divestment was viewed as a way to put pressure on the South African government to end apartheid by hurting them economically.
In 1960, almost 40% of New Orleans' population was African American. The city's main shopping avenue was Canal Street, where all stores were white-owned, predominantly Christian, had segregated facilities, and didn't serve blacks at lunch counters. The second busiest shopping avenue was Dryades Street, where the stores were also white-owned, but store patrons were almost all black. Blacks could use the facilities, but were not employed in the stores aside from an occasional janitor.
In 1963 a long-distance peace march demanding U.S. foreign policy change got caught in the wave of civil rights campaigns in the southern United States. Beginning on May 26, 1963, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), a racially integrated group of social activists left Quebec City, Canada on their Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace to protest the United States' policy toward Cuba.
The students of Virginia Union University, a black university, wanted to do something to contribute to the growing sit-in movement that had begun on February 1, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). Led by students Frank Pinkston and Charles Sherrod, who had been counseled on nonviolent protest methods by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 200 Virginia Union students and faculty marched from their campus to Richmond’s downtown shopping district on February 20, 1960.
In 1955, before the sit-in campaign in Rock Hill, South Carolina even began, Rock Hill’s St. Anne School desegregated in compliance with the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. In 1957, Rev. Cecil Ivory (who would later become a leader in the sit-in campaign), led a bus boycott that put the Rock Hill bus company out of business. Sit-ins elsewhere, including in nearby Charlotte (see “University students campaign for racial integration in Charlotte, NC, 1960”), helped start Rock Hill’s own sit-in campaign. Sit-in protests lasted throughout the entire year.
The San Francisco general strike grew out of a coast-wide maritime strike in which ports up and down the west coast of the United States were closed by striking workers. While there were complaints about wages and working conditions, the strikers (headed by the International Longshoremen’s Association) were committed to workplace democracy, calling for worker control of unions and hiring and a coast-wide industrial organization inclusive of unskilled workers, skilled workers, and workers of all races and nationalities.
The Seattle General Strike was the first general strike in the U.S. and marked the beginning of a post-WWI era of labor conflict.
African Americans campaign for reopening of public schools in Prince Edward County, Farmville, VA, 1959-1964
Rather than comply with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on
Starting in the 1960’s, students in the United States started organizing against apartheid in South Africa. They targeted banks and other companies involved in South Africa, and by the 1970’s, many students were starting campaigns to encourage their universities to divest from all companies with investments in South Africa.
As early as 1965, students at Swarthmore College had signed a letter to the college president calling for a removal of investment with Chase Manhattan Bank, but the issue was overshadowed by activism against the Vietnam War.
At the time of this campaign the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was a community-based worker organization based in Immokalee, Florida. The CIW was comprised mostly of Latino, Haitian, and Mayan immigrants that worked low-wage jobs throughout Florida. The CIW fought for fair wages for workers, increased respect from employers and bosses, better and cheaper housing, stronger laws/punishments for those companies that violate workers’ rights, the right to organize without fear of retaliation, and an end to indentured servitude in the fields.
In the Spring of 2007, Alphonso Jackson, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, promised to meet with ADAPT in Chicago in the Fall of 2007 and present a number of vouchers that the HUD had recovered, and then to meet regularly with ADAPT in order to work on eliminating housing discrimination against persons with disabilities. The meeting was held on Sunday, September 9, 2007, but Secretary Jackson did not attend. Instead, Kim Kendricks and Paula Blunt represented him, but did not deliver the promised number of recovered housing subsidies.