The Labor Class at Tougaloo, Fall, 1962
by Hunter Bear (John Salter)

See Jackson MS, Boycotts for background & more information.
See also Jackson, MS Movement for related documents
See also Jackson, MS, Movement for web links.

I do continue to hold, as I wrote earlier, that "...the primary weapon of a worker is the withdrawal of labor." From strikes can come — and often do — a wide variety of tactically nonviolent supportive strategies. "In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoard of gold..." ["Solidarity Forever", of course.]

Any effective organizer has to be — to put it bluntly — something of a propagandist. In every course I've ever taught, I've always been able, some way and some how, to work in two of the several "pet themes" of mine: American Indians and the Labor Movement. I even did that in my one academic year of high school teaching back in the days of dinosaurs. [I have to add that to this day I am always sadly surprised at the dearth of knowledge about those matters with students from non-Indian and non-union family backgrounds.]

In late August, 1962, with my second year of teaching at Tougaloo College — just a few miles north of Jackson — coming up, and following a few weeks of reflective thinking back home in Northern Arizona, it seemed to me that an effective approach in Jackson, heart of the Missississippi version of police state, would be a widespread economic boycott of the downtown merchants [all of whom were white].

I was the advisor to the slowly growing Jackson NAACP Youth Council which was mostly centered in the city itself. But at Tougaloo College, which in the spring of 1961, had produced a visit by several of its students to the all-white library in town [they were quickly arrested] and which had hosted the Freedom Riders later that summer when they returned to Jackson for court appearances, and which often featured very appropriate speaker/visitors [including Martin King], there was clearly very substantial activist potential.

In addition to typing out on mimeograph paper [on a very hot August afternoon] the first of what became the regularly issued "North Jackson Action," I scheduled a course on the Labor Movement. I was well known on the college's small campus and the class drew around 35 students, almost all of them activist oriented. And, as I always had, I made my activist pitch in my other classes.

But the Labor Class at Tougaloo was something very well timed — and special. The basic framework was a history of the American labor movement with emphasis, of course, on its high points of activism — lots on the Western metal miners [including take-overs of the mines at Cripple Creek], a great deal on the IWW [including its early sit-ins in New York state, the "free speech" fights to win the right to organize in places like Spokane], rise of the CIO [including the San Francisco General Strike] — into the then current times.

We examined picketing and mass march and related approaches. I contacted a good number of international unions which quickly obliged my request for bundles of labor newspapers. At every point, we discussed the applicability of union labor strategies to the situation we faced in the very economic and political heart of the Magnolia State. We used a number of labor films. To convey a sense of the oft-need for enduring, long term "oak wood" durability and effectiveness [as well as innovative strike support tactics], we had the great film, Salt of the Earth — as always sent obligingly and quickly by always "with it" Juan Chacon, president of the large Mine-Mill district union in southwestern New Mexico and male lead in the movie. [We also showed Salt and other labor films in Jackson itself.]

In October, the Jackson Youth Council began planning the economic boycott of Jackson. Members of the Labor Class, as well as other Tougaloo students, began to mobilize fellow students who joined the effort.

The boycott of the white Jackson merchants began on December 12, 1962 — and our slogans, "Put your money on strike" along with "WWW" ["We Will Win"] were written and printed, spoken, and shouted at least a million times. The boycott was extremely effective.

Five months after its inception, on May 12, 1963, we threw down the gauntlet to the entire Mississippi political and economic power structure — and the large scale nonviolent [but bloodily resisted by the Adversary] Jackson Movement took off. Widely supported by the Black community in Jackson and surrounding rural counties, it shook Jackson to its very foundations and its wide ranging ramifications were considerable and extremely positive to the very Four Directions.

Copyright © Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear], 2011.

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(Labor donated)