Colored National Labor Union

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National Colored Convention in 1869

The Colored National Labor Union arrived shortly after the development of the National Labor Union, which happened to be the first major organization founded by Andrew Cameron in 1866. The National Labor Union was dedicated with helping unions such as construction and other skilled groups and even sometimes towards farmers.

At this point in time African Americans were struggling to be noticed and taken seriously in the work field and in society they felt that if they started their own national union it would help their position in society because they were not given any help from the National Labor Union. The only thing that the National Union offered to African Americans was to encourage them to organize and separate that could be affiliated with the National Labor Union, but this plan was clearly not designed to help with racial unity because it left black workers only fighting for an entry into the union.

In 1869, African Americans came together as one to form the Colored National Labor Union and appointed Isaac Myers as their president, Myers stated that the CNLU was a "safeguard for the colored man…the white and color must come together and work." Unfortunately, the CNLU was very unsuccessful for society, and the government did not take it seriously. With racism at an all-time high, the Colored National Labor Union was not even given a chance because the majority of white society did not allow African Americans to prevail over them nor did they want them to be given a chance to.


The "Colored" National Labor Union was a post-civil war organization founded in December 1869 by an assembly of 214 African American mechanics, engineers, artisans, tradesmen and trades-women, and their supporters in Washington D.C. This organization was created in pursuit of equal representation for African Americans in the workforce. The labor union was organized by Isaac Myers, and elected its first president; civil rights activist Frederick Douglass was selected the president of the CNLU in 1872. Douglass' newspaper, The New Era was chosen as the official organ of this National Labor Union.[1]

Previously in 1866, a National Labor Union (NLU) met and was organized in Baltimore, with Isaac Myers in attendance. One of the coordinators of the NLU, A.C. Cameron, while speaking at a national convention focused on the issue of "colored" or Negro labor and declared "…interests of the labor cause demand that all workingmen be included within the ranks without regard to race or nationality…" However, despite this statement, the membership of this organization's exclusion of issues and interests of the African American workforce was cause to arrange a separate union. This new organization was perfected in 1869. According to its constitution, the official name for the organization was, The National Labor Union. The word "colored" was added to the previous name apparently by the public media of the time, thus labeling it the "Colored National Labor Union."[2]

Myers stated about the segregated groups: "…for real success separate organization is not the real answers. The white and colored … must come together and work together… The day has passed for the establishment of organizations based upon color…"

The CNLU welcomed all workers no matter what race, gender, or occupation. In the end, both the CNLU and the NLU began to decline because of new organizations like the Knights of Labor who promoted having a national organization which united workers "without regard to race or color." The Knights of Labor adopted the slogan, "An injury to one is a concern for all."

It was not until after World War II in the 1940s that the U.S. government stepped in and encouraged the development of the Fair Employment Practices Commission.[1][2]


  1. ^ Proceedings of the Black national and state conventions, 1865-1900 / edited by Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1986.
  2. ^ The Black worker : a documentary history from colonial times to the present / edited by Philip S. Fonerand Ronald L. Lewis. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, c1978-1984. See volumes 2 and 3.