Addie L. Wyatt
|Addie L. Wyatt|
|Born||Addie L. Cameron
March 8, 1924
|Died||March 28, 2012
|Occupation||Labor leader, civil rights pioneer, pastor|
|Spouse(s)||Claude S. Wyatt Jr.|
Claude S. Wyatt III
Maggie Nolan Cameron
Addie L. Wyatt (née Cameron; March 8, 1924 – March 28, 2012) was a leader in the United States Labor movement, and a civil rights activist. Wyatt is known for being the first African-American woman elected international vice president of a major labor union, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. Wyatt began her career in the union in the early 1950s and advanced in leadership. In 1975, with the politician Barbara Jordan, she was the first African-American woman named by Time magazine as Person of the Year.
Family and early life
Wyatt was born to Ambrose and Maggie (Nolan) Cameron in Brookhaven, Mississippi, on March 8, 1924. She is the second child and the oldest daughter of eight children. She moved with her family to Chicago in 1930 when she was six years old. The family relocated in hopes of finding better job opportunities during the Great Depression. However, obtainable jobs for African Americans at this time were hard to come by.
At 16 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt Jr., a postal finance clerk, on May 12, 1940. With Claude she had two sons, Renaldo Wyatt and Claude S. Wyatt III. She raised several of her younger siblings after her mother died at the age of 39 and her father was unable to care for them because of illness.
Meatpacking industry and union work
After her marriage, Wyatt applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company in 1941. On her first day of work, she discovered African American women were not hired as typists in the front office and instead was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. In the early 1950s, Wyatt joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America when discovering the union did not discriminate against its members. As the forefront leader of black women within unions, she and others took advantage of their union's antiracist and antidiscrimination laws and fought race-based and gender-based inequities and work as well as in their communities. In 1955, Wyatt worked full-time on staff for the UPWA, representing workers across a five-state region. She recognized the importance and effectiveness of interracial organization. Among other achievements, Wyatt and her union of black, white, and Latino laborers were able to win "equal pay for equal work" provisions in many union contracts well before the Equal Pay Act of 1963, notes a recent tribute by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, a successor of the UPWA.
In 1953, Wyatt was "elected vice president of her branch, Local 56, becoming the first black woman to hold senior office in an American labor union". Wyatt was the director of the Women's Affairs and Human Rights departments of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters. By 1956, Wyatt was the Program Coordinator for District One of the United Packinghouse Workers Union. This was also the year the Wyatts began their work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whom they helped raise funds with for the Montgomery Improvement Association. In the early 1960s, Eleanor Roosevelt recognized her leadership abilities and appointed her to a position on the Labor Legislation Committee of the United States Commission on the Status of Women. African American women, with Addie Wyatt at the helm, had the unparalleled experience of working on the floors of the meatpacking plants as well as being integral parts of building the unions.
During the 1970s she became a powerful figure in the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. During this time, she worked harder to create unions that were more inclusive of minorities. In 1972, she became the founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, which was formed to ensure that black workers could "share in the power of the labor movement at every level." As chair of CBTU's National Women's Committee, Wyatt helped ensure that AFL-CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations)-affiliated unions opened leadership positions to women. This not only led African American to great confidence within the labor force, but also women in general becoming financially independent and effective contributors of the economy.
In 1974, Wyatt was a founder the Coalition of Labor Union Women in order to create a stronger, more effective voice for women in the labor movement. She spoke, "Racism and sexism was an economic issue. It was very profitable to discriminate against women and against people of color. I began to understand that change could come but you could not do it alone. You had to unite with others. That was one of the reasons I became a part of the union. It was a sort of family that would help in the struggle" (HPChicago). This was an important step forward, not only for the second wave feminist movement, but also for the advancement of minority women who may have felt left-out by the dominant, mainstream, white feminisms. When Wyatt became the international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers in 1976 she was the first African-American woman to take a high-level leadership position in an international union. She fought for human rights on three fronts; as a laborer, as a woman, and as an African American.
Addie Wyatt contributed to the change of the meatpacking industry by being a forefront component in the labor unions. Her contributions enriched the lives of women and women's and women of color. Wyatt not only became the first black woman to hold a senior office in an American labor union, but she was being recognized for her strong leadership traits. She was part of the process that was working to change the public views of women and women of color. These women could be seen as strong members of society and proponent leaders. Addie Wyatt did more than change the face of the meat packing industry but she gave the women that came after her the opportunity to follow in her footstep and go beyond what she did.
Ministry and civil rights work
In 1955, Wyatt was ordained as a Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) minister. Together with her husband, also an ordained Church of God minister, she worked in the ministry and civil rights campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and participated in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Wyatt was involved in grassroots civil rights work in Chicago and participated in organizing protests.
She was a labor adviser to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She served on the Action Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement. In the 1960s, Wyatt was active in Operation Breadbasket, which distributed food to underprivileged people across the United States. In 1984, Wyatt became a full-time minister, and with her husband founded the Vernon Park Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), in Chicago. They retired as ministers of the church in approximately 2000. Later Wyatt was the founder and CEO of the Wyatt Family Community Center in Chicago.
Wyatt was named one of Time magazine's Women of the Year in 1975. The publication recognized her for "speaking out effectively against sexual and racial discrimination in hiring, promotion and pay." Wyatt's picture appeared on the magazine's cover along with First Lady Betty Ford, tennis great Billie Jean King, and Rep. Barbara Jordan, one of the first black women elected to Congress.
In 1987, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award.
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