Labor Day 2016

On this Labor Day, we stop to consider an interesting footnote to the construction of Mississippi’s New Capitol, which I stumbled on by browsing around the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America database of historic newspapers. It seems that soon after construction began in April 1901, white unionized masons working for the Chicago contractor, W.A. and A.E. Wells, walked off the job (and apparently were encouraged not to return) when they found themselves working with two black, non-unionized Mississippi masons. These newspaper clips tell the story, all of them from West Coast papers. First, the Daily Astorian of Astoria, Oregon (“A paper for the commercial man, for the farmer, for the mechanic, for the merchant, for every person”), then commentary from the African-American-owned Seattle Republican.

New Capitol strike2

The Morning Astorian. (Astoria, Or.), 19 April 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Seattle Republican. (Seattle, Wash.), 26 April 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Seattle Republican. (Seattle, Wash.), 26 April 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

<img class="wp-image-33205 size-full" src="https://misspreservation.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/new-capitol-strike.jpg" alt="he Seattle Republican. (Seattle, Wash.), 26 April 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. The Seattle Republican. (Seattle, Wash.), 26 April 1901. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
New Capitol "Scenes During Construction" from State House Commission Series 317: Photographs of New Capitol, MDAH.

New Capitol “Scenes During Construction” from State House Commission Series 317: Photographs of New Capitol, MDAH.



Categories: African American History, Jackson

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4 replies

  1. The publisher of the Seattle Republican was Horace Cayton, whose wife and co-editor, Susie Revels, was the daughter of Reconstruction-era Mississippi Senator Hiram Revels.

    http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/cayton-susie-revels-1870-1943

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  2. For follow-up on this story:

    April 15, 1901, p. 6 The Times-Democrat from New Orleans–[Contractor Wells] “has experienced no trouble to date with his labor, and says he has no complaint whatever to make of negro unskilled labor after he gets it on the ground and down to work.” (Whatever gets it on the ground means.)

    May 6, 1901, p. 2 Iowa City Press-Citizen reported the Chicago brick layers working on the Mississippi Capitol went on strike due to refusal to work with African Americans.

    August 1, 1901, p. 1 Vicksburg Evening Post–“Warren McPhay assaulted a white brickmason” by allegedly intentionally throwing a brick “with all his might” at the foreman of the Mississippi Capitol construction. McPhay was on top of a ladder and the foreman was climbing up the ladder when McPay tossed a brick that struck the foreman in the side of the head, causing him to fall off the ladder. The writer of the story stated that the incident was “no doubt planned” earlier in the morning by the African American laborer. (So the laborer knew that the foreman would be ascending the ladder later in the morning, and planned to throw a brick at him? And is the strike over?)

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    • I think that “strike” may not have been the most accurate term to use for this event. Another article I found in the Vicksburg Post dated April 16, says that “Mr. A.E. Wells, the contractor,” quietly paid them the wages due and they left the grounds. The men immediately came into the city with their tools and got about finding work on other buildings and that would remain here if suitable employment was offered them.” So basically, they walked off the job, and as the one article above indicates, labor leaders wished they would have walked off because the black masons weren’t union members, and maybe that would have instigated a true strike.

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