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Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919
Mike Wallace
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An activist's life

Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality (Women in American History) - Marcia Walker-McWilliams

If you were to draw a Venn diagram consisting of 20th century unionism, the African civil-rights movement, and second-wave feminism, you would find Addie Wyatt where they intersect. Over the course of her long and busy life she served as a union official, a civil rights activist, and as a campaigner for women's rights. In this book, Marcia Walker-McWilliams details the range of Wyatt's activities, showing how her myriad rights campaigns were tied together by the common threads of determination, personal experience, and faith.

 

Born in Mississippi, Addie Cameron was moved to Chicago at a young age by her parents. After marrying her high-school sweetheart soon after their graduation, she sought employment as a secretary only to find her opportunities limited by her race. It was as a worker in an Armour and Company packinghouse that Addie Wyatt that she became a member of the progressive United Packinghouse Workers of America, for whom she subsequently worked as an organizer. Walker-McWilliams describes the Wyatt family's life during these years as surprisingly diverse, with Addie's skills as a pianist enabling her to participate in the vibrant gospel music scene Chicago enjoyed at that time.

 

Wyatt's position within the union enabled her to lend considerable support to the civil rights movement as it came to national prominence in the 1950s, and her growing prominence within it opened up opportunities to participate in key conferences and national commissions. By the end of the 1960s Wyatt also played an important role in the women's movement, and she worked (albeit in vain) for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her efforts on behalf of Harold Washington's 1983 campaign for the mayoralty of Chicago proved more fruitful, and even in retirement she lent her support to the successful efforts to unionize the Delta Pride catfish processing plant in her former home state of Mississippi, as she never stopped standing up for the causes in which she believed.

 

Walker-McWilliams's book provides an insightful examination of Wyatt's life and times. The author's description of the role Wyatt's faith played in her life is particularly well-done, as it demonstrates the many ways in which it motivated and empowered Wyatt though hardscrabble beginnings and the frustrations of life as an African American woman in a world dominated by white men. It is a shame that such an interesting and accomplished person isn't better known to Americans, though hopefully this biography will help her gain the recognition she so richly deserves.