African Labor History: The Maida Springer-Kemp Papers

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the opening of the papers of labor activist Maida Springer-Kemp, who was active in international efforts to improve labor standards, especially for women.  Springer-Kemp traveled throughout Africa, lending her technical assistance to the emergence of trade unions through her work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Back cover of American Labor Today, edited by Maida Springer-Kemp

Back cover of American Labor Today, edited by Maida Springer-Kemp

Springer-Kemp was born on May 12, 1910, in Panama to Harold and Adina Stewart. Harold Stewart, a black migrant from Barbados, arrived as one of many migrant workers from the Caribbean to work on the Panama Canal. The family immigrated to New York in August 1917 and Maida was raised in Harlem by her mother, following her parents’ divorce. During her school years she often held summer jobs in the garment industry, one of the limited jobs available to black women.  In May 1933, she joined the Dressmaker’s Union, Local 22 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).  After a successful strike in August 1933, Springer-Kemp began to take on more assignments from the union. Her increased activism led to her rising status within the ILGWU, resulting in her serving on the executive board by 1938 and becoming the chair of its education committee in 1940.

Following World War II, Springer-Kemp’s activism turned towards the international arena, particularly in the new labor unions emerging in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, and other African nations. She served as the International Representative for Africa, Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO and continued her work as a general organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, then as a consultant with the African American Labor Center and the Asian-American Free Labor Institute.

Springer-Kemp’s papers document the development of labor and trade unions in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). African trade unions represented within the papers include the East Africa Federation of Building and Construction Workers Union, the Kenya Federation of Labor, the African Mineworker’s Trade Union (Northern Rhodesia), the South Rhodesia Tailors and Garment Workers Union, the Tanganyika African National Union, the Uganda Trade Union Congress,  the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, and many others. Also represented in the papers is the Turk-Is (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions).

Detail from a reprint of a 1963 International Ladies Garment Workers Union publication regarding a sewing school at the Kenya Institute of Tailoring and Cutting.

Detail from a reprint of a 1963 International Ladies Garment Workers Union publication regarding a sewing school at the Kenya Institute of Tailoring and Cutting.

Another highlight of Springer-Kemp’s papers includes information in the subject area of women’s labor activities in the United States, Turkey, and Indonesia. A significant aspect of the Springer-Kemp Papers centers on the integration of labor unions in the United States during the modern Civil Rights Movement.

The collection was organized by University of New Orleans graduate student intern Maher Judah, and is one of eleven collections to be processed under a grant from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.

Posted by Laura Thomson

(Image from the Maida Springer-Kemp papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s