Like many of the earlier readings for this class, the Civil Rights Unionism reading demonstrated that the oppressed conditions of the African American community and the traditions that have emerged from these conditions allowed for a strong sense of unity and in this case, unionization. There seem to have been three driving factors that are common to most all the movements/acts of resistance we have looked at in this class: church, song, and a strong female influence. The case of unionization of tobacco workers in Winston-Salem is no different.
In this reading, I found the church's involvement to be particularly interesting. Because of the exclusion of African Americans from participating in politics (through voting, etc.), the community turned to their churches for political involvement. Voting to elect deacons, etc., "(t)he surrogate politics carried on in the Black Church became an intensive training ground of political experience with all of the triumphs and disappointments of which the political process is capable." (pg. 161) In this way, African Americans were perhaps more ready to participate in union politics that white workers (who could participate in local, state, etc. politics), as the church more closely mimics the scale, etc. of a union and parishioners that may not otherwise vote, might be more likely to participate within their church.
Song also played an interesting role in the unity among the workers in Winston-Salem and elsewhere. The reading describes the singing during work (as begun in the plantation fields of the antebellum South). Not only did workers sing during their work, but some began choral groups with their fellow workers outside of the workplace. Workers often overlapped as preachers, parishioners, and neighbors, and singing together created the unity needed for a successful workers' movement.
Again, women seem to be an important part of the movement. It seems that in nearly every movement we have looked at, women have played a very important role. I think that the success of women in organizing goes back to the many different roles they are forced to play. In Winston-Salem, women were workers, mothers, often heads-of-households, many times domestic workers, and the caretakers of the community. These different roles gave them the power to influence the community as well as the perspective to know how and what needed to be done. One of the most interesting points for me was the fact that many women worked both in the tobacco plants and in the households of the rich, white community in Winston-Salem, giving them an insight on the inner-workings of white society. They were able to better understand the way the people in power thought and worked, and thus how to effectively influence them.
I was also interested in the description of the living conditions in the African American parts of Winston-Salem followed by the line, "You wouldn't believe it, living in a country like America, that people would have to live under those conditions." (pg. 59) This seems to be a common sentiment in this country-the idea that certain things 'just don't happen' in the United States. It is an interesting and conflicting idea that I think has both good and bad repercussions. In some cases, I think it drives people to work for change. When someone sees or experiences and injustice, this mentality can drive them to work for change/justice, because in the US, we are supposed to be entitled to certain things. On the other end, however, I think people who are not experiencing the injustices can be disillusioned. They think that hunger, etc. is something that happens in other countries, but not here in the U.S., and they go about with their lives. This, clearly, can be dangerous.