Social justice issues and their intersection with America’s labor movement are the focus of a new exhibit in the University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library, opening October 6.
The first major exhibit drawing primarily from the historical archives of the AFL-CIO, the exhibit explores turning points in the labor movement around issues including civil rights, women’s movements, immigrant rights, religious freedom, LGBTQ equality, environmental justice, and international workers’ solidarity.
Hundreds of unique documents, photographs, artifacts and videos are on display, selected from the vast collections of the University Libraries related to labor history. A 1929 handwritten log with entries about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, for example, documents membership in the first labor organization led by African Americans to be chartered by the American Federation of Labor. A rarely viewed 1835 Philadelphia carpenters’ banner calls for a 10-hour workday.
The exhibit seeks to spark new questions and study about the historical relationship between the labor movement and social justice.
“One of the most interesting aspects of this exploration is how the labor movement has evolved from often discriminatory positions in the 19th and early 20th centuries to progressive stands today, fighting for equality for all people,” says Labor Archivist Ben Blake. “It reveals the great story of the ongoing transformation of both the labor movement and America.”
The historical archives of the AFL-CIO, a gift from the labor federation in 2013, dates back to the mid-19th century and fills approximately 20,000 boxes. It is the largest such donation to the university and has helped establish the university as a top archival repository for labor history.
“For Liberty, Justice and Equality: Unions Making History in America” runs through July 2018. The exhibit was curated by Labor Archivist Ben Blake, along with Assistant Labor Archivist Jennifer Eidson, and Graduate Assistants Jennifer Wachtel and Erin Berry. Jennifer Paul designed the exhibit. An opening reception will be held Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.