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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1915-68: The Suburbs and the Ghettos

1915-68: Black migration to cities increases as cotton agriculture declines, industry expands and the white work force decreases during two World Wars. As the white work force returns, government programs and deindustrialization facilitate white flight into the suburbs. Few jobs or tax bases are left in cities, forming modern segregated urban ghettos with heavily racialized policing.

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1910: Ida B. Wells founds the Negro Fellowship League in Chicago.  The building provides housing, employment and religious services for Southern Black migrants.
  • 1917: Three years after founding the United Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey sets up the first chapter in New York City.  The most popular black organization in the world at that time advocates for repatriation of Black people to Africa.
  • 1919: W.E.B. Du Bois organizes the first Pan African Congress in Paris, calling for the end of colonial rule in Africa.
  • 1919: Seattle General Strike is the first city-wide strike in the United States.
  • 1920: In Hawai'i, the Japanese Federation of Labor joins the Filipino Federation of Labor in an inter-ethnic strike that crippled the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association. Met with divide and conquer tactics and evictions from the planters, the strike was broken in three months.  Despite this, planters raise wages 50%.*
  • 1920: Presidential campaign of Prisoner 9653 (Eugene Debs), who was imprisoned under the Espionage Act of 1917 for an anti-war speech.
  • 1933: In California, interracial organizing, such as the work of communist Dorothy Ray Healey and Japanese and Mexican berry pickers, preceded later coalition movements.
  • 1938: Passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the eight-hour work day, regulation of child labor and a national minimum wage.
  • 1955: The nonaligned countries (neither aligned with the Soviet Union or the United States) meet in Bandung, Indonesia.  The meeting builds solidarity for an international Third World movement and leads to the creation of the Bandung Principles.
  • 1966: Farmworkers—who were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act—unionized when the (largely Filipino) Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee joined with the National Farmworkers Association to form the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee.
  • 1969: In Detroit, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers organizes auto workers around principles of Black liberation and Marxist-Leninst ideology. 
  • 2007: National Domestic Workers Alliance is founded to fight for the rights of domestic workers (excluded from the National Labor Relations Act).  The alliance of 35 local member-based organizations is successful in passing a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York and organizes to pass similar Bills in other states.
Discussion Questions:
  • Is it easier to build coalitions across class or race? Why do think this is so?
  • Why do you think many people fighting for freedom in the United States during this time begin to call for internationalist movements?
  • What associations come up when you hear the word communist? Socialist? Where have you heard or learned about communist or socialist movements in the United States? What did you learn about them?
Additional Resources:
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