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? 1940s RJ.R.
A permanent tribute to workers whose strike led to the formation of a landmark union stands at the corner
of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Fourth Street. Winston-Salem State University Professor Larry Little
soeaks at the celebration.
BY CHANEL DAVIS
THE CHRONICLE _
On May 8, the Forsyth County
Historic Resources Commission will
unveil a historic marker remembering
the R.J.R. labor strikes in the 1940s.
The markers honor members of
Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco,
Agricultural, and Allied Workers
, Congress of Industrial Organizations
In 1943, African-American leaf
workers initiated a sit-down strike at
R J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. during the
height of Jim Crow South and the
budding Civil Rights movement.
Most of those workers were women
who were against the poor wages they
were given, poor working conditions
and the segregated work.
"In 1943, someone died in the
plant. They just wanted better condi
tions and better benefits. They helped
get better wages, job security, vaca
tion and grievances, so that it was a
better place to work and be in," said
Michelle McCullough, historic
resource officer for the Historic
Resources Commission. "It was actu
ally Mayor Pro Tempore [Vivian]
Burke's idea to commemorate the
labor strikes that went on there. This
is just commemorating that time in
our history when industry just ran
things and it took the people to step
up and say 'Wait a second. This isn't
Burke said that she is delighted to
see a marker unveiled in the labor
"When I think back about that
area, where so many minorities
worked hard, came out drenched with
sweat with coats and sweaters on, I
think they built up RJ. Reynolds, It
was a buzzing area with people work
ing hard to be productive with
salaries that may not have been the
best," Burke said. "The history there
was rich with people who believe in
the old fashioned way: You work, you
take care of yourself, share and uplift
others. We embrace to move forward
in a better way."
Local 22 would turn out to be a
model for interracial labor move
ments that were to follow in the South
during the '40s. The group consisted
of 10,000 R J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
workers that included white workers.
The group is credited with helping to
get Kenneth R. Williams, the city's
first black alderman, elected in 1947.
The group leaders faced backlash
for their actions, including being
labeled communists, spending time in
jail or having to leave the city to find
In 1950, Local 22 ended after a
National Labor Relations Board rul
ing stripped the union of its rights to
represent workers. McCullotigh said
that the struggles those in Local 22
dealt with has made the city what it is.
"Reynolds Tobacco really did put
Winston-Salem on the map, but it's
through the challenges of time and
conditions that we made this a better
place to be. That group of women
standing up for themselves is part of
that. I think we need to always
remember that so we encourage the
youth to do things like that. It's
important to stand up for your rights
and stand up during different times of
A historic marker from the N.C.
Department of Cultural Resources
already sits at the corner of Martin
Luther King Jr. Drive and Fourth
Street near First Calvary Baptist
The unveiling will be held at 6
p.m. at 545 Power Plant Circle, fol
lowed by a reception and loft tour
hosted by Plant 64.
The marker is part of the commis
sion's recognition of May as Historic
Preservation Month. The group will
hold lectures, panel discussions, trol
ley tours of historic neighborhoods
and the historic Rural Hall train
Historic Preservation Month
activities are presented and coordiriat
ed by Preservation Month Pfirtners, a
collaboration of the Forsyth County
Historic Resources Commission, Old
Salem Museums and Gardens, the
New Winston Museum, Reynolda
House Museum of American Art and
Preserve Historic Forsyth.
For more information about the
events, call McCullough at 336-747
7063 or visit
httpt//w ww.cityofws .org/news/id1151
Workers are shown here protesting their wages and
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