Black Steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania

Black History and Culture is a special edition of 15 features devoted to the history and heritage of African Americans in Pennsylvania, from the American Revolution to World War II, published December 1977.

Blacks constituted a sizable core of workers in the iron and steel industry of western Penn­sylvania between 1900 and 1950. Most had migrated to the Pittsburgh vicinity from the agricultural South during the two World Wars in hopes of improving their economic plight by obtaining jobs in area mills and foundries. However, racial discrimination prevented the majority of them from advancing beyond the industry’s lowest occupational ranks. Consequently, Black steel­workers received less pay than whites, they held most of the hard, hot, and dirty jobs, and they were more acutely affected by layoffs and general unemployment. Moreover, the industry’s lessening dependence upon un­skilled labor eventually caused a dramatic decrease in the number of Black steelworkers after the ending of World War II.

Prior to 1910 the iron and steel industry of western Pennsylvania employed fewer than five hundred Blacks. They were widely scattered in steel plants in Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Homestead, Braddock, Clairton, and other nearby mill communities. In 1907 the two largest groups of Black steelworkers labored at various Carnegie steel­works throughout Allegheny County, where they num­bered 331, and at the Clark mills in Pittsburgh, where they numbered 110. On the eve of World War I Blacks made up less than two per cent of all iron and steel em­ployees in the Pittsburgh vicinity.

Blacks, a group normally excluded from early steel unions, originally entered area mills and foundries as strike­breakers. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth cen­turies, several instances of local labor unrest prompted industry managers to import Black southerners to substitute for their striking union employees. A puddler’s strike in 1875 compelled the Pittsburgh Bolt Company; Parke, Brother & Company; and other local firms to bring in Black ironworkers from Richmond, Virginia, and Chatta­nooga, Tennessee, to keep their furnaces in operation. In 1888 and again in 1889, labor disturbances occurred at the Solar Iron Works in Pittsburgh. On each occasion, the company relied on its own Black puddlers and newly imported Black southerners to maintain production. A few years later, in spite of their minor role, Black strike­breakers were present in the Homestead mills during the infamous strike of 1892. In 1909 the Pressed Steel Car Company in McKees Rocks used Black strikebreakers, both as laborers in the mills and as cooks in a hastily established plant commissary.

Moreover, a small but steady stream of Blacks, primarily from Virginia, Maryland, and other parts of the Upper South and border-state regions, also migrated into western Pennsylvania during the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Jefferson Jackson, born in King George County, Virginia, in 1866, was probably the first Black steelworker in Du­quesne. He came to this burgeoning industrial community in 1885, and eventually secured employment at the Car­negie steel plant in 1892. Jasper Jones, an Atlantan with experience as a sharecropper in Georgia and iron-ore miner in Alabama, migrated to Clairton in 1903, and became a veteran employee at the local Carnegie mills. During the same year William P. Matthews came to Monessen from North Carolina, and worked as a janitor and driver at the Pittsburgh Steel Company until his death in 1912. This early group of mill employees, who worked largely as unskilled laborers, remained comparatively small until 1916. At that time a series of economic catastrophes in agricultural areas in the Deep South together with the outbreak of World War I unleashed a massive Black migration into western Pennsylvania lasting into the 1920’s.

Since the 1880’s, northern industry had generally relied on European immigration to supply it with large numbers of unskilled workers. However, hostilities during World War I seriously diminished this large labor supply. Ex­panded wartime production required northern industry to recruit Black southerners into its mills and factories to replenish its dwindling immigrant work force. In many ways Blacks had already been readied for migration northward. Deteriorating economic conditions in southern agriculture due mainly to floods, low crop prices, and the boll weevil prompted Blacks to go North in search of better jobs and better pay. Moreover, the second-class citizenship imposed on them by Jim Crow law and custom made the North appear like a “Promised Land” where their rights would be both affirmed and protected. Therefore, industry managers in the North made travel arrangements with various railroads, used labor agents, and placed ads in Black newspapers to stimulate the Black migration. As a result industrial centers through out the urban North became suddenly inundated with thousands of incoming Black southerners.

In 1916 Allegheny County, the principal steel-pro­ducing region in western Pennsylvania, had 2,456 industrial plants. However, immediate wartime obligations required the construction of 124 additional facilities. Although the total number of workers varied little during the war period, the composition of the labor force did change quite significantly. The number of native white laborers rose slightly from 115,495 in 1916 to 121,381 in 1919. But the availability of immigrant workers slackened tremen­dously, and at that point Black laborers were imported to take their place. Between 1916 and 1919, the ranks of foreign-born laborers decreased from 96,668 to 85,630. Immediately before the war, Black industrial workers in. the Pittsburgh district numbered 2,550. However, re­ductions in European immigration and general employment demands brought on by the war more than quintupled their numbers to 7,897 in 1916, and to 14,610 in 1919.

The greatest increase in local Black employment came in the steel industry. The wartime migration brought the total number of Black steelworkers from less than five hundred in 1910 to more than seven thousand in 1918. The four thousand Blacks employed in the area’s several Carnegie mills and the fifteen hundred Black steelworkers laboring at Jones and Laughlin in Pittsburgh comprised well over half of the total. The Carnegie steelworks in Clairton and Duquesne each had fewer than fifty Black employees, but the migration respectively increased their numbers to 300 and 344 by 1919. Black steelworkers at the Carnegie plant in Homestead made up 1.8 per cent of the work force in 1907, but in 1919, 1,737 Blacks comprised eleven per cent of all plant employees.

Economic difficulties continued to afflict southern agriculture after World War I, and in 1922 massive Black migration to western Pennsylvania resumed and the number of Black steelworkers grew even more. By September, 1923, 16,900 Blacks made up twenty-one per cent of all steel employees in western Pennsylvania. During that year the Carnegie mills in Pittsburgh, Homestead, Braddock, Duquesne, and Clairton collectively employed 6,758 Black laborers. Another twenty-nine hundred Blacks worked in four Jones and Laughlin steel plants. In McKees Rocks there were seventeen hundred Blacks at the Pressed Steel Car Company, and 350 in the employ of Lockhart Iron and Steel.

Most Black steelworkers who settled in western Pennsylvania both during and after the war had come to the area primarily to improve their economic plight. A student at the University of Pittsburgh conducting a survey among 400 migrant Blacks in Pittsburgh in 1918 found that an overwhelming 325 had left the South principally for the higher wages and broader employment opportunities avail· able to them in local mills and foundries. William Henry Harrison, for example, left his native North Carolina in 1916 in search of a better job in northern industry. After working for a brief time in Norfolk, Virginia, young Harrison migrated to New Haven, Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, his brother Charles, a newly hired steelworker in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, told him of even better opportunities in the steel region around Pittsburgh. Before the year had ended, Harrison was settled in western Pennsylvania and working as a bricklayer’s helper at Carnegie’s Duquesne steelworks. Ruben Montgomery had been a sharecropper in Troy, Alabama, before migrating to Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, to work for the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company in 1917. Not only had his sharecropping parents come there a short time before, but other Blacks were migrating en masse from Troy and Geneva, Alabama, to Vandergrift in search of higher wages.

Like their World War I predecessors, the vast majority of Black southerners responding to newly advertised po­sitions in Pittsburgh steel mills in the early 1920’s cited economic reasons for wanting to come North. Writing to the Urban League of Pittsburgh, for himself and seven other Black men in Thomasville. Georgia, in May 1923, Barnie Smith made clear their desire to migrate to western Pennsylvania for higher wages:

We southern negroes want to come to the North … they ain’t giving a man nothing for wha! he do. Time he pay for groceries he don’t have a dollar … you know just how it is with the poor race here. They is down, and they [white southerners] is trying to keep us down …

James Lewis Day, a Black Georgian affected by the boll weevil, wrote:

I am a young 25 years of age and I want to work … I don’t care what kind of work it may be just so it is something honorable . . . I am married and need work and need it bad …

This persistent Black migration into western Pennsylvania both during the war and in the early 1920’s was best explained by Lillie Smith of Mt. Zion, South Carolina, who in writing the Pittsburgh Urban League for her “two grown son [s] ” said, “We want to settle down somewhere North .. .Wages are so cheap down here we can hardly live …”

Prospective Black steelworkers also hoped to improve their social condition by coming to Pittsburgh. W. S. Hurt of Maxeys, Georgia, was “anxious to get somewhere that I can make a livelihood and … educate my children.” S. M. Jenkins of Houston, Texas, was “glad to know that a colored man could get in a [city] where he could work and live at ease.” And G. P. Washington, a self-styled Black leader in Savannah, Georgia, in a letter to the Pittsburgh Urban League, thought he could “do a great good of getting the negro away from ” the South.

Like the wartime labor shortage and post-war employment opportunities, the steel strike of 1919 represented another chance for Blacks to secure gainful employment at a decent wage and to escape the less desirable conditions in the South. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steelworkers, because of its traditional disregard for Black steelworkers, won few supporters among this important group of laborers during the 1919 strike. Even a plea to a large gathering of Black steelworkers in Pittsburgh by William Z. Foster of the National Organizing Committee failed to compensate for the previous years of union neglect. Moreover, many of these workers had recently migrated into the area from the agrarian South and had little if any acquaintance with labor organizations. Con­sequently, Black steelworkers throughout western Penn­sylvania were unresponsive to the September strike call. Of the 1,737 Black employees at the Homestead steelworks, only eight joined the union, and only one went on strike. Just six of three hundred steelworkers at the Carnegie steel plant in Clairton struck against the company. None of the 344 Black employees of the Duquesne steel· works joined the walkout.

Moreover, steel companies in Pittsburgh and throughout most of the outlying milltowns brought in other Black southerners to replace their striking workers. Carnegie Steel, according to one Black Virginia strikebreaker, usually dispatched its imported laborers to its various area plants from a designated point in Pittsburgh. At the Edgar Thomson steelworks in Braddock, they, along with the mill’s regular Black employees, maintained production and comprised “the majority of the workers.” In Monessen, the Pittsburgh Steel Company shuffled them across several departments to satisfy shifting labor demands in its many mills. In both the Braddock and Monessen mills, Black steelworkers “worked, slept, and ate” inside or near the plant facilities. Armed guards protected them and commissary workers fed them. Without their labor, steel pro­duction in several key companies would have ceased altogether.

Besides a major steel strike, several periods of unemployment among Black steelworkers followed World War I. In most cases cutbacks in mill production literally placed hundreds of recent migrants on the streets without jobs. In 1919, for example, a special agent from the Division of Negro Economics in the United States Department of Labor visited New Castle and reported “large numbers of colored … unemployed.” He also saw “a great many unemployed Negroes in Braddock and McKeesport” who were furloughed because of mill “shutdowns.” In the summer of 1920 another downturn in the steel industry caused layoffs of other Black workers. During January, 1921, within the space of twelve days, twenty-one hun­dred Black men, many of them steelworkers, poured into the Provident Rescue Mission in Pittsburgh in search of employment referrals and material relief. In one week, the Pittsburgh Urban League received 1,027 applications for only eight available jobs. Other brief episodes of unemployment occurred on a few other occasions during the 1920’s. However, the persistence of Black migration to western Pennsylvania in spite of these harsh realities disclosed the actual depth of Black discontent with life in the South. Consequently, each period of unemployment in the steel industry during the immediate post-war era was invariably followed by a resumption of Black migration. This large-scale influx of Blacks to Pittsburgh and the surrounding milltowns did not end until late in the 1920’s. At that time most steel firms had acquired a sufficient and permanent force of Black steelworkers, and that made any further migration into the area unnecessary.

The prospect of unemployment was only one of many problems that Blacks had to confront once they settled in western Pennsylvania. The lack of ecological standards in the mills and the prevalence of poor environmental conditions in Pittsburgh and the milltowns dashed the hopes of many migrants who thought of the North as an “Eden” and a “Promised Land.” Most of them lived in generally dirty surroundings in designated “colored areas”: Port Perry in Braddock, Castle Garden in Duquesne, Rosedale in Johnstown, and the Hill District in Pittsburgh. Usually their substandard dwellings had improper ventilation and inadequate toilet and sewage facilities. One Black family rented an old brick house in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Seven people jammed into this three-room dwelling. The first floor, where the kitchen was located, was sunk three feet below street level. The absence of water connections to the house left the family without sewage and required it to use an outside toilet. Steel officials in Duquesne, Braddock, Homestead, Johnstown, and other mill communities crowded their Black employees into unsanitary bunkhouses and tenements. Their numbers were frequently so large that men would double up and use the same bunk according to their respective work shifts in the mill. At boarding houses in Pittsburgh, both privately and company owned, one could find as many as sixteen people occupying a four-room dwelling.

In most mills over three-fourths of all Black employees worked as unskilled laborers. Usually they were clustered in particular departments where they were directly and consistently exposed to hot molten metal coming forth from the furnaces or rolling through the bar mills. There the work was hardest and the conditions least tolerable. At the Jones and Laughlin facility in Pittsburgh the entire boiler-room crew consisted of Black workers. Blacks predominated at the coke plant at the Clairton steelworks, and in most mills they made up practically all of the labor gangs, especially in open-hearth and blast-furnace departments. Blacks working at the A. M. Byers Company, a manufacturer of wrought-iron pipe, were assigned primarily to the galvanizing, bar-mill, bell-weld, and several finishing departments. In the galvanizing department, for example, zinc was used to coat the pipes to prevent corrosion. The acid fumes were usually so intense that many Black workers simply quit their jobs. In the other departments the work was either “too hard” or “too heavy.” Thomas Dicks had come to Pittsburgh in 1918 from Alabama. He became an employee of A. M. Byers on October 18, 1920. After working for a day as a laborer in the number-three finish department, he quit his job because the work was “too heavy.” He was rehired on May 15, 1922, as a drag-out in the galvanizing department. On September 14, 1922, he walked off the job because the galvanizing acid became too much to bear.

The undesirable jobs held by Black steelworkers made them particularly vulnerable to industrial accidents. Workers frequently labored close to furnaces and near mill machinery without the proper safety precautions and instructions. Local newspapers like the Duquesne Times made constant references to injuries incurred by Black steelworkers, especially recent migrants, in the local mills. In June, 1919, John Jordan sustained an injury to his side while working in the merchant mill of the Duquesne steelworks. Similarly, John McKeever lost one of his toes while at work in the Duquesne mills in December, 1919. Other Black steelworkers, however, were not so lucky. Albert D. Jones, Jr., a nineteen-year-old migrant from Wilmington, North Carolina, died in June, 1923 from burns he received while at work in the Duquesne steel plant. Theodore Brown, another nineteen-year-old migrant living in Farrell, met a similar fate. Brown, an employee at the open-hearth department in the Carnegie steel plant in Sharon, was instantly “roasted into a crisp” when a sev­enty-ton ladle of molten steel poured upon him and five other workers. A cable holding the ladle of steel broke, causing it to upset onto Brown and the other hapless victims.

Dissatisfaction with working conditions in the mills and especially with poor housing frequently led to high turnover rates among new Black employees. So, beginning in 1918, the Pittsburgh Steel Company in Monessen, Lockhart Iron and Steel in McKees Rocks, and the Home­stead and Duquesne plants of Carnegie Steel hired Negro welfare officers to initiate social-service programs among Black steelworkers as a way to reduce turnover. Soon thereafter other firms in the area followed suit. Carnegie Steel secured welfare officers for its Braddock and Clairton plants. Similarly, the Westinghouse Electric and Machine Company, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and Pittsburgh Forge and Iron Company obtained their own social-service em­ployees. Practically all of them were college-trained and most had some experience in educational and recreational programs. Duquesne’s welfare officer, Macon Lennon, was an alumnus of Shaw University in North Carolina, where he had apparently been trained as a teacher. William P. Young, the welfare worker at Lockhart Iron and Steel’s plant in McKees Rocks, earned the B.A. and M_A. degrees from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and had taught English, German, and Argumentation there. Robert Earl Johnson, the welfare officer at the Edgar Thomson steel­works in Braddock, had graduated from Morgan State College in Baltimore where he became noted as a cross­-country runner.

Initially, a major part of their official responsibilities entailed recruiting of Black laborers during the war and in the early 1920’s. Eventually, the supervision of social and recreational programs became their primary obli­gations. The housing of newly arriving Black migrants was the first task confronting them. In many instances the housing that the steel companies provided for their newly hired Black employees was grossly inadequate. William P. Young convinced Lockhart Iron and Steel to improve on the tenement buildings it assigned to its Black employees. He believed that poor housing in the workers’ village had caused a turnover rate of twenty-five per cent per month among Black Lockhart employees in 1918 and 1919. The company responded by enlarging living quarters for Black steelworkers, installing an efficient heating system, and providing decent beds for the bunkhouses. In January, 1924, the turnover rate had been reduced to eight per cent per month, and Young fervently believed that “no factor has had so great a bearing on this condition as providing the men with a comfortable place in which to live.”

Other steel plants provided community centers in which reading rooms, billiard tables, and checker boards were available for worker recreation. Grover Nelson, the welfare worker at the Homestead mills, organized a softball team and amateur boxing matches for Black steelworkers there. Macon Lennon acquired a staff of two nurses for the community center at the Duquesne steel­works. They were on hand to dispense health care to needy Black steelworkers and their families. Moreover, he and his assistant, Ira J. K. Wells, a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, taught adult education classes, especially to unlettered Black steelworkers. In December, 1920, Lennon reported more than fifty students in his classes. Wells gradually took over many of Lennon’s classes and taught English, arithmetic, civics and even Negro history. On Sunday, Lennon frequently permitted religious services to be held in company housing. On one occasion in 1920, he allowed the Workingmen’s Bible class to invite the pastor of the Fourth Street Baptist Church in nearby Rankin to preach at the Jennings boarding house. However, these and other company welfare programs were not designed to help Black steelworkers advance beyond their hot, dirty, and low-paying jobs in the mills.

When the Great Depression hit the steel industry in 1929, limited work opportunities in the Pittsburgh area made racial discrimination all the more acute for Black steelworkers. During the economic crisis, they were usually the first to be laid off and the last to be recalled when production resumed. Moreover, job scarcity made race an asset of tremendous importance to white workers seeking to get rehired and promoted in area mills during the 1930’s. Several firms simply refused to hire any un­employed Blacks. One steel official who had no Blacks among his five hundred steelworkers thought that “white labor [was] better,” and that “Negroes [were] lazy.” The manager of a rolling mill employing eleven hundred laborers hired no Blacks because he believed the work was too specialized for them. The Superior Steel Company in Carnegie did not “care for Negro labor” and held out “little hope to unemployed Negro steelworkers.” In the midst of production cutbacks, some steel firms made de­liberate efforts to exclude or reduce their force of Black steelworkers. The employment manager at Firth Sterling Steel in McKeesport, which had an overwhelming white labor force, indicated that the sons of mill employees got preference in job placement, and this “system would per­manently exclude Negroes.” Officials at Allegheny Steel in Breckenridge replaced their furloughed Black employees with whites. Until 1931 the coke department at the Clairton steelworks was completely staffed by Blacks. When the depression came. the company began replacing these veteran workers with whites.

This preferential treatment given to whites caused the unemployment rate among Blacks to become dispropor­tionately high. In 1931 Blacks comprised seven per cent of the male population of Allegheny County, yet they made up 37.4 per cent of all applicants for relief and 22 per cent of all employment seekers at the county’s Emergency Asso­ciation. In February, 1934, 31.9 per cent of all whites and 28 per cent of all foreign-born workers were without jobs. Blacks, however, comprised over forty per cent of the unemployed in Allegheny County. In Pittsburgh where eight per cent of the population was Black, 43.4 per cent of them were on relief in October, 1933, and they made up 19.8 per cent of all relief recipients.

By 1934 merely 5,235 Blacks remained employed in the steel industry in western Pennsylvania. Forty-six per cent were unskilled, and in several large plants they came close to comprising the entire Black work force. The Duquesne steelworks employed 302 Blacks in 1934, but 69.8 per cent, or 211 men, worked as common laborers. The Edgar Thomson steelworks in Braddock employed 316 Blacks, and 284 or them, or 90.1 per cent, were unskilled workers. In 1935 Black steelworkers averaged 57.7 cents an hour while their white counterparts earned an average of 69.8 cents per hour. Moreover, the majority of them during the height of the depression were unable to work full time. Most managed to come in for only two or three days a week.

Mill layoffs and varying periods of unemployment made it difficult for most Black steelworkers to adequately maintain themselves and their families. James Brown, a sandblaster in a local pipe mill for eight years, supported his family of five by selling apples on the streets of Pittsburgh. Another unemployed Black steelworker vainly searched for a job, but according to his wife, “he just got discouraged and one day he went out and he didn’t come back.”

During the 1930’s, the New Deal assisted Black steel­workers in three vital areas. First, N.R.A. prompted steel managers to divide work among unemployed laborers by shortening hours. Secondly, Black steelworkers who were totally or partially unemployed obtained immediate help from various agencies, especially W.P.A. Third, New Deal encouragement of union development through Section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and later in the Wagner Act of 1935 facilitated the growth of the C.I.O. and its by-product, the Steelworkers Organizing Committee. In this new industrial union, the rights and the interests of all steelworkers, regardless of craft or color, were to be advanced and protected.

In the revived Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and then in S.W.O.C., white union leaders mindful of the union’s fiasco with Black steelworkers in 1919 actively recruited them in the organizing drives. Blacks were organizers at the McKeesport Tin Plate plant, at J. & L. in Aliquippa, at the Duquesne steelworks, and at Lockhart Iron and Steel in McKees Rocks. In practically every S.W.O.C. local with a sizable Black membership, a Black officer was elected as a race representative. In Monessen, a Black became the first vice-president of Local 1229 at the Pittsburgh Steel Company. William Henry was elected vice-president of the newly organized Local 1237 at the McKeesport Tin Plate Company. The Penn Iron and Steel Company in Tarentum employed 350 men of whom 250 were Black. After the employees voted to affiliate with S.W.O.C. in 1937, they elected Hunter Howell, a Black puddler, as president. Nonetheless, Black steelworkers in western Pennsylvania, in spite of New Deal programs, entered the 1940’s with racial discrimination, poor housing, and joblessness high on their list of concerns. Unemploy­ment was the only problem that World War II immediately solved for them.

The outbreak of World War II revived Black migration to western Pennsylvania from the South, and restored employ­ment opportunities for the thousands of unemployed workers in the Pittsburgh vicinity. Wartime production in the steel industry brought the number of Black employees in area mills from a dismal 5,235 in 1934 to at least 12,000 to 14,000 during the early 1940’s. However, as in previous years, the majority was concentrated in unskilled labor and in low-paying semi-skilled positions.

Racial discrimination still remained a barrier to Black advancement in the mills. Jesse Hawkins applied for a laboring position in the production department of the American Steel Band Company in Pittsburgh. However, the personnel officer indicated that Blacks were “used solely as janitors and window washers,” and none would be employed in production. Percy Foster tried to get hired as a chipper at the Blaw Knox Steel Company in Pittsburgh. Although he already had four years experience in that trade, he was offered a laborer’s job “on grounds that [the] company did not hire Negroes as chippers.” In November, 1944, Roger Williams, a Black employee at the J & L Works in Pittsburgh, was placed in charge of a small group of track laborers. Although he received no raise in pay for performing this extra duty, the white man who succeeded him certainly did. Discriminatory promotion policies at the Clairton Coke Works of Carnegie-Illinois Steel actually prompted a work stoppage of six hundred Black employees early in 1944.

When tabor shortages compelled the mills to hire female employees, Black women also became steelworkers. Yet, like their male counterparts, they, not white women, were assigned to dirty and disagreeable jobs in masonry, sintering plants, and in labor gangs. Ethel Cotton, an employee at the Midland plant of Crucible Steel, spent two months as a grinder, a physically exacting position. Although white women were being placed as paint girts, this Black woman was told to accept grinding or no job at all. Edna Barber, who sought employment at the Acme Die and Machine Company in Apollo, discovered that “[white] women [there] did not care to work with colored women.” In a letter to President Roosevelt she declared, “The colored soldiers are overseas fighting for the four freedoms just the same as white soldiers. Now why is the colored woman refused employment[?]”

Because of racial discrimination, especially in the mills, Blacks in western Pennsylvania were compelled to establish lives for themselves within the context of their own segregated communities. Race restrictions in employment, business, and other major avenues to status and financial success made the Black church, lodge, and community institution into major outlets for talent, recognition, and power for Black steelworkers in the Pittsburgh area.

During the World War I migration the Black church, for example, grew at a phenomenal rate. In the first few months of 1918 Central Baptist Church in Pittsburgh added 544 new communicants, bringing its membership to 1,752. By 1925 Ebenezer Baptist Church had a membership of three thousand, Shiloh Baptist Church two thousand, and Euclid Avenue A.M.E. Church fifteen hundred members in Pittsburgh. In 1926 the twelve hundred-member John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church in Pittsburgh had taken in more than three hundred persons. Within these institutions the Black steelworker, so frequently denied promotions and better job positions on account of race, aspired and usually attained such enviable offices as deacon of the local Baptist Church or steward at a local A.M.E. or A.M.E. Zion congregation. He could oversee the financial operation of the church, and in the case of Baptist congregations, even hire or fire a minister. Such power and recognition were almost always denied him beyond his segregated enclaves. The same held true for the several fraternal organ­izations, especially the Masons and Elks, which Black steelworkers joined or established in western Pennsylvania throughout this entire period.

After World War II, the number of Black steelworkers in the Pittsburgh area declined dramatically. In 1950 it had dropped to 9,239, only 6.5 per cent of the total work force. Race discrimination both in hiring and promotion prevented the ranks of Black mill employees from increasing with the rise in Black population. Moreover, the steel industry began to depend less upon unskilled and semi-skilled labor, which most Blacks were to perform. Many jobs that Blacks had held were simply eliminated. When new mills were constructed, Blacks were neither transferred nor hired in the same proportions as they had been during World War I. As early as 1937 a Black chipper at Allegheny Steel in Breckenridge felt threatened when the company installed a machine that performed his job better and faster. By the end of World War II such machinery became even more commonplace in other mill departments. Because of their race and skin color, Black steelworkers were first to go.

 

Dennis Dickerson is a native of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, was educated at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, and will receive his Ph.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Mr. Dickerson was a part-time instructor in history at the School of Continuing Education, The Pennsylvania State University, Ogontz Campus, Abington, and since September, 1976, has been assistant professor of history at Williams College.