School Closed in Observance of Labor Day
- School Closed in Observance of Labor Day
On Labor Day, we remember the Black women who helped win labor rights
100 years ago, Nannie Helen Burroughs launched the National Association of Wage Earners — part of her effort to integrate comprehensive labor reform into the movement for voting rights.
Analysis by Danielle Phillips-Cunningham
September 6, 2021 at 7:00 a.m. EDT
A portrait of Nannie Helen Burroughs, born in 1879. (Library of Congress)
As we celebrate Labor Day, let’s remember the Black women who helped make this day possible. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Association of Wage Earners (NAWE), a little-known but important Black women’s labor organization of the early 20th century. Although the labor movement is often credited to White male industrial workers, it was Black female organizers who, more than a century ago, recognized that bettering the lives of working people required dismantling systemic racial, class, and gender inequalities in all institutions. They believed that the single most important pathway to doing so would be equal access to the ballot box.
Upon launching NAWE in 1921, Nannie Helen Burroughs, suffragist, educator, organizer and later a mentor to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., crafted a groundbreaking national agenda to integrate comprehensive labor reform into the movement for voting rights. In a prophetic 1915 article in the Crisis newspaper, Burroughs declared that “when the ballot is put into the hands of the American woman the world is going to get a correct estimate of the Negro woman. It will find her a tower of strength of which poets have never sung, orators have never spoken, and scholars have never written.”
Nannie Helen Burroughs