Local 22: Bringing the giant down to earth

As a young man, Robert “Chick” Black stood in the shadow of the R.J. Reynolds building in Winston-Salem, NC, and dreamed of one day bringing the giant company down to earth. Black, along with 10,000 unionized tobacco workers, later realized that dream.

In 1943, African American leaf workers initiated a sit-down strike at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company during the height of Jim Crow. The strikers’ refusal to work in poor conditions for little pay in a segregated environment sparked seven years of hard struggle for workplace democracy. The workers united to form an interracial union called Local 22. The historic union proved to be a model for other interracial labor movements that were to follow in the South during the 1940s. Its impact continued to be felt 20 years later during the civil rights struggle when African Americans mobilized to end segregation in the U.S.

 

Interviews:
-Larry Little, son of R.J. Reynolds worker and professor at Winston-Salem State University
-Earline Parmon, protege of union leaders and N.C. State Senator
-Richard Koritz, son of Local 22 director, Philip Koritz, and labor activist
-Robert Korstad, author of “Civil Rights Unionism” and professor at Duke University

Production, cinematography and editing:
Jonathan Michels

Photographs courtesy of the Forsyth County Public Library, the family of Sarah Koritz and Robert Korstad.

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