March 14, 2016

Study explores black women’s involvement in ILGWU

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A study of black women and their involvement with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union that was conducted in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library is the basis for a new book and a special presentation at the library this month. 

Keona Ervin, assistant professor of African-American history at the University of Missouri-Columbia, will present “Interracial Goodwill: The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union’s Educational Department (Southwestern Region) and Black Working-Class Women’s Critical Unionism During the Wartime Forties” at 11 a.m. on March 22 in the library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. The presentation is free and open to the public. Pizza and refreshments will follow in the Hall of Presidents and Chancellors. 

Morris Library’s Special Collections Research Center is home to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Southwestern Regional Educational Department archives. Items from this collection are part of an exhibit, “Women in Special Collections,” on display through May in the library’s Hall of Presidents and Chancellors. Ervin conducted her extensive research within the ILGWU records. 

Ervin’s talk will focus on the participation of black women during World War II in the activities of the ILGWU Educational Department. 

“Amid the social upheavals generated by wartime mobilizations, black women were able to more fully integrate the St. Louis garment and apparel industry and its unions,” Ervin said. “Although integration within the mounting civil rights movement of the 1940s was not the most important agenda item for these working people, they nonetheless made critical contributions to larger civil rights and wartime challenges.” 

Ervin also incorporated her research into her forthcoming book,” The Labor of Dignity: Black Women, Urban Politics, and the Struggle for Economic Justice in the Gateway City, 1931-1969.”