|Remember When . . .|
African Americans in Construction
by William Johnson, Laborers' Local #113 Business Manager
|After two years
of military service during the Korea Conflict, I was honorably discharged in April of
1955. I returned to Alabama for a short while about two weeks when I was
encouraged by my brother to come to Milwaukee. I thought, as did he, that I would have
greater opportunities in Milwaukee than in Alabama.
Upon my arrival, I was surprised that in the northern states that African-Americans were still discriminated against.
At the time there were two highly publicized events going on in the city. Four bricklayers of color were trying to gain membership into the Bricklayers' Union. That case ended up going to the State Supreme Court, that eventually decided the case in their favor.
At about the same time, the Plumbers Union was resisting the efforts of African-Americans trying to gain membership into Local #75 in Milwaukee.
It was well known in the City of Milwaukee that African-Americans need not apply for membership into any of the so-called "skilled" trades.
I became a member of the Laborers' paving Local that eventually merged with #113.
During the period 1961 to July of 1969 I recall having to perform work tasks that were claimed by the Operating Engineers.
Although Reps for the Operator's were made aware of the work I was performing each and every day, I was never approached to join the Operators' Union.
I was given the opportunity by the Laborers to work in the construction industry and later to become a representative with the Union.
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