Richmond Labor History From 1865 to 1940
by Sasho Radoulov
The years 1865-1940 were chosen for this project, as they coincide with most of the largest waves of labor activity within the United States, and the labor conditions of this span of time, perhaps apart from early reconstruction, were all impacted predominantly by the second industrial revolution.
Two separate stories within the Richmond working class persisted throughout this span of time; one of the black working class, and the other of the white working class. Into the 20th century, black and white workers were rarely ever seen working in the same settings, and white labor movements were often exclusive towards Richmond’s black population, even within organizations such the Knights of Labor that have been celebrated as places that both the black and white sections of the American working class could convene during its prevalence in the late 1800s. Due to both of these reasons, the black and white sections of Richmond’s working class each took up their own distinct forms of labor struggle during the second industrial revolution.
Upon the ending of chattel slavery, a vast array of measures was thrown at the American black population, including Richmond’s, to draw from them similar gains for the white ruling class as they had seen before the end of chattel slavery. Finding their way through the struggles of sharecropping, the sudden rapid growth of convict slavery, and general entry into society with no platform to build off of were the primary concerns for the black working class of Richmond. Consistently the worst off and most viciously exploited of Richmond’s working class population, labor struggle within the black working class often came abruptly and organically, all throughout the late 1800s and well into the mid-1900s. Richmond’s white working class saw large waves of labor organization throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, until the victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia saw the birth of the Red Scare in America, and labor activity among the white working class of America and Richmond soon dwindled.