Frank Rudolph Crosswaith (1892-1965) was a longtime socialist politician and activist and trade union organizer in New York City. Crosswaith is best remembered as the founder and chairman of the Negro Labor Committee, which was established on July 20, 1935 by the Negro Labor Conference.
Frank R. Crosswaith was born on July 16, 1892 in Frederiksted, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (the island was sold to the United States in 1917 and became part of the U.S. Virgin Islands), and emigrated to the United States in his teens. While finishing high school, he worked as an elevator operator, porter and garment worker. He joined the elevator operators' union and when he finished high school, he won a scholarship from the socialist Jewish Daily Forward to attend the Rand School of Social Science, an educational institute in New York City associated with the Socialist Party of America.
Crosswaith founded an organization called the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers in 1925, but this work went by the wayside when Crosswaith accepted a position as an organizer for the fledgling Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Crosswaith maintained a long association with union head A. Phillip Randolph, serving with him as officers of the Negro Labor Committee in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the early 1930s Crosswaith worked as an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which became one of the major supporters of the Negro Labor Committee.
Crosswaith was an anti-communist and believed that the best hope for black workers in the United States was to join bona fide labor unions just as the best hope for the American labor movement was to welcome black workers into unions in order to promote solidarity and eliminate the use of black workers as strike breakers. He believed strongly that "separation of workers by race would only work to undermine the strength of the entire labor movement." Crosswaith spent much of his energy in the late 1930s and early 1940s battling a rival labor organization called the Harlem Labor Union, Inc., which was run by Ira Kemp and had a black nationalist philosophy. He accused Kemp of undermining the interests of black workers by signing agreements with employers that offered them labor at wages below union rates.
Crosswaith also worked with A. Philip Randolph during World War II in organizing the March on Washington Movement, which was called off when President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to sign Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in defense industries.
Death and legacy
Frank Crosswaith died in 1965.
Additional information on Crosswaith may be found in the Negro Labor Committee Records held by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.
- "Biographical Sketches: Frank Crosswaith," Socialist Party of the United States of America Records, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison. Box 6, folder 4.
- Irwin M. Marcus, "Frank Crosswaith: Black Socialist, Labor Leader, and Reformer," Negro History Bulletin, vol. 37 (1974), pp. 287–288.
- John Howard Seabrook, Black and White Unite: The Career of Frank R. Crosswaith. PhD dissertation. Rutgers University, 1980.
- John C. Walter, "Frank R. Crosswaith and the Negro Labor Committee in Harlem, 1925-1939," Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (July, 1979), pp. 35–49.
- A Soldier of Black Labor - Frank Crosswaith