Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "We Shall Not Always Plant While Others Reap": Black Women Hospital Workers and the Charleston Hospital Strike, 1967-1970
Available after 15 August, 2019

Charleston, South Carolina prided itself on avoiding the confrontations and unrest associated with the national civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. This peaceful façade, however, masked a history of struggle, and it was dramatically disrupted by a hospital workers strike that emerged from the intersection of the civil rights and labor movements of that era. In 1968, Medical College Hospital of the University of South Carolina and Charleston County Hospital workers, all black and mostly female, began to organize around issues of low wages, racial discrimination and the lack of union representation, eventually turning to Hospital and Nursing Home Workers’ Union Local 1199 in an effort to unionize. Local 1199, in turn, enlisted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and its community organizing power, thus, initiating a “union power, soul power” campaign by emphasizing the link between labor and civil rights issues at the core of workers’ grievances. The Local 1199-SCLC relationship often overshadowed the hundreds of working-class black women that initiated the movement, resulting in a narrative that largely excluded their story. This dissertation utilizes an array of sources such as oral histories, newspapers, letters, and organization documents to situate the contributions and experiences of black working-class women at the core of the Charleston hospital workers’ movement. This moment in the city’s history sheds light on black women’s roles in the long civil rights and labor movements. In doing so, it urges an ongoing reconceptualization of black female activism in the labor, political and social movements of the twentieth century.