Access Type

Online access to this book is only available to eligible users.



Download Full Text (20.2 MB)


Whether as slaves or freedmen, the political and social status of African Americans has always been tied to their ability to participate in the nation’s economy. Freedom in the post–Civil War years did not guarantee equality, and African Americans from emancipation to the present have faced the seemingly insurmountable task of erasing pervasive public belief in the inferiority of their race.

For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865 describes the African American struggle to obtain equal rights in the workplace and organized labor’s response to their demands. Award-winning historian Robert H. Zieger asserts that the promise of jobs was similar to the forty-acres-and-a-mule restitution pledged to African Americans during the Reconstruction era. The inconsistencies between rhetoric and action encouraged workers, both men and women, to organize themselves into unions to fight against unfair hiring practices and workplace discrimination.

Though the path proved difficult, unions gradually obtained rights for African American workers with prominent leaders at their fore. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph formed the first black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to fight against injustices committed by the Pullman Company, an employer of significant numbers of African Americans. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) emerged in 1935, and its population quickly swelled to include over 500,000 African American workers. The most dramatic success came in the 1960s with the establishment of affirmative action programs, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title VII enforcement measures prohibiting employer discrimination based on race.

Though racism and unfair hiring practices still exist today, motivated individuals and leaders of the labor movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries laid the groundwork for better conditions and greater opportunities. Unions, with some sixteen million members currently in their ranks, continue to protect workers against discrimination in the expanding economy. For Jobs and Freedom is the first authoritative treatment in more than two decades of the race and labor movement, and Zieger’s comprehensive and authoritative book will be standard reading on the subject for years to come.

Robert H. Zieger, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Florida, is the author of several books, including American Workers, American Unions, The CIO:1935–1950 and John L. Lewis: Labor Leader.

An admirable synthesis of the racial policies of the labor movement, the place and activities of black workers within it, and the promises and limits of union interracialism. Zieger brings to the task his depth of knowledge, sound judgment, and customary even-handedness and intellectual generosity. Promises to be the definitive treatment of these issues for a good while. -- Alex Lichtenstein, author of Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy

A monumental achievement, broad in its scope, rich in its insights, judicious in its judgments. Informed by a lifetime's worth of research, reading, and thought by one of America's wisest and most accomplished historians, this book offers the best introduction now available to the long and difficult history of African Americans' struggle for opportunity and justice both in the workplace and the labor movement . In a narrative arc that stretches from emancipation to globalization, it tells a story that is at once sobering, enlightening, and inspiring. -- Joseph A. McCartin, author of Labor's Great War

Zieger's scholarship is always judicious, balanced, thorough, relentlessly intelligent, and beautifully crafted. A marvelous book. -- Kevin Boyle, Ohio State University, author of Arc of Justice

Robert Zieger explores one of the most contentious subjects in modern U.S. history in a subtle and dispassionate manner. Synthesizing an enormous body of recent scholarship with the best of the older studies about labor and race, Zieger dissects both the successes and the failures of the labor movement in its attempts to resolve racial tensions and conflicts among workers. He is equally sensitive to the factors that either influenced African American workers to turn to existing unions for assistance, to create their own exclusively black unions, or to disdain unions as a barrier to jobs and freedom. This is now the book to assign in courses that treat racial relations or the labor movement in modern U.S. history. It is far and away the one book that all readers interested in its subject should want to have on their shelves. -- Melvyn Dubofsky, author of The State and Labor in Modern America

A comprehensive, balanced, and meticulously detailed history of a contentious subject. It makes clear that race has been and is the most important fault line not just in the U.S. labor movement but in U.S. society as a whole. This book is destined to become the standard introduction in the field. -- Michael D. Yates, author of Why Unions Matter

With energy and insight Robert Zieger puts the struggle of American-Americans for citizenship and dignity at the heart of our labor history. From the Civil War to the culture wars, Zieger offers us a complex but highly readable story of why and how organized labor, corporate capital, and the American state made the relationship between white and black workers such a vexing, yet sometimes an inspiring, part of the American narrative. A book from which both scholar and student can profit. -- Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor

In this accessible and broadranging account, distinguished historian Robert H. Zieger provides an overview of black workers' struggles since 1865. For Jobs and Freedom is well-balanced and navigates readers through a wealth of literature in a helpful and concise way. Zieger's work provides an excellent way for teachers to introduce labor issues to students of recent U.S. history. It should be recommended reading for students of post-1865 surveys and for any reader interested in understanding the historical roots of the contemporary struggle over affirmative action. -- Timothy J. Minchin, author of The Color of Work: The Struggle for Civil Rights

A synthesis of new literature on race and labor as well as original research in primary documents through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, For Jobs and Freedom is an invaluable resource for the history of race and labor relations in the United States. -- Tennessee Historical Commission

Because this book examines race and labor, it should have a wide audience among readers interested in both ethnic and labor history. A bibliographic essay provides very helpful suggestions for further reading. More-over, the book’s fluid, intelligent writing style makes it accessible to interested general readers and undergraduate and graduate students alike. -- Choice

A thoughtful, engaging and expansive survey of the problematic relationship between African Americans and organized labor. -- Labor History

An excellent job of pulling together a diverse historiography. -- Southern Historian

Overall, For Jobs and Freedom is a superb synthesis of the vast and growing body of scholarship that, over the past several decades, has transformed our understanding of the African American working-class experience. -- North Carolina Historical Review

Zieger’s sympathetic focus on the contradiction between labor’s egalitarian claims and its racist practices makes a familiar story 'new.' -- Business History Review

For Jobs and Freedom is essential reading not just for historians but also for all scholars, their students, and social activists interested in the intersection of race, class, and politics. -- Journal of Economic History

For Jobs and Freedom is a clearly written, tightly focused, and an inspiring work that synthesizes an impressive array of scholarship into a moving narrative and an ambitious analytical framework. -- West Virginia History

Over a distinguished career, Robert H. Zieger has earned a reputation for intelligent, balanced scholarship grounded in solid research and a thorough command of the burgeoning secondary literature on American labor. Those qualities are evident in his latest work, a thoughtful, engaging, and expansive survey of the problematic relationship between African American and organized labor that will immediately take its place as the standard in the field. -- Journal of American History

As Zieger emphasized, over the years the civil rights movement and the labor movement sometimes walked hand in hand, sometimes separately, as they sought equal rights for all Americans. -- HistoryWire

A significant and conclusive study that will definitely engage labor historians and race scholars alike, and... shed light on American labor throughout the 20th century. -- Cercles

"Offers an excellent place to start exploring the history of race and labor in the United States."--Teamsters

Named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






African Americans, Employment, Labor unions, Discrimination in employment, United States, History


African American Studies

For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865
Read Sample Off-campus Download