The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000 Page: 54
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
One of the earliest and most significant collaborations between the
black working and middle classes along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast fol-
lowing the Civil War and Reconstruction occurred when Norris Wright
Cuney, a respected black labor leader and politician from Texas, orga-
nized the Galveston Colored Screwmen's Benevolent Association
(CSBA) in 1883. Cuney defied white opposition to black unionization
and established a precedent of organized protest among black workers.
Cuney's clout and influence helped empower black dock workers and
demonstrated the need for middle-class blacks to assist black laborers in
their workplace struggles. Cuney's organizing successes reflected an
important step toward improving work opportunities for black long-
shoremen who had been denied equal work opportunities and union
representation by white longshoremen.3
Discrimination against black dock workers along the Texas Gulf
Coast dates back to the evolution of the first longshoremen union in
Texas. The all-white Galveston Screwmen's Benevolent Association
(SBA), founded in 1866, denied black workers equal employment and
refused them access to its union.4 Cuney acted aggressively against these
practices and encouraged black freight handlers to disrupt the strikes of
white longshoremen and accept work from employers at wages less than
those of white unionists. Cuney focused on finding as much employ-
ment for as many black longshoremen as he could. By the late 188os
many steamers along the Gulf Coast suspended their loyalties to white
workers in exchange for greater profit and allowed "colored gangs on
board to do work traditionally reserved for whites." When the Mallory
the South, developed a tradition of activism that helped shape working class identity. For exam-
ple, see Eric Arnesen, "It Aint Like They Do In New Orleans: Race Relations, Labor Markets, and
Waterfront Labor Movements in the American South, 1880-1923," in Marcel van der Linden
and Jan Lucassen (eds.), Racism and the Labour Market: Historical Studies (New York: Peter Lang
Publishers, 1995), 59; Eric Arnesen, "What's on the Black Worker's Mind?: African American
Workers and the Union Tradition," Gulf Coast Historical Review, 1o, no. 1 (1994), 5-18. Also, see
Joe William Trotter, Jr., Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia 1915-32 (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1990); Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communzsts dur-
ing the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Michael Honey,
Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organzzing Memphis Workers (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1993); Keith Griffler, Black Radicals Confront White Labor, i9z8-1938 (New York: Garland
Press, 1995); William H. Harris, The Harder We Run: Black Workers since the Civil War (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1982).
S"Longshoremen Workers," Texas Labor Movement Collection, Box 2E304, folder 4, Center
for American History, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter cited as TLMC). See Maude
Cuney-Hare, Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People (New York: Crisis, 1913), 42-63;
Merline Pitre, Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868-I9oo
(Austin: Eakin Press, 1985), 192-94; Marshall, "Some Reflections on Labor History," 142;James
V. Reese, "The Evolution of an Early Texas Union: The Screwmen's Benevolent Association of
Galveston, 1866-1891," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 75 (Oct., 1971), 170, 18o-81.
4Reese, "The Evolution of an Early Texas Union," 144; Allen Clayton Taylor, "A History of the
Screwmen's Benevolent Association from 1865 to 1924" (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1968),
71. Also, James C. Maroney "The International Longshoremen's Association in the Gulf States
during the Progressive Era," Southern Studies, 16 (Summer, 1977), 225-32. For more on the evo-
lution of longshoremen unions along the Gulf Coast consult Eric Arnesen, Waterfront Workers of
New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-z923 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000, periodical, 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/m1/80/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.