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Race against Liberalism

Black Workers and the UAW in Detroit

An in-depth chronicle of the black labor movement in Detroit

Race against Liberalism: Black Workers and the UAW in Detroit examines how black workers' activism in Detroit shaped the racial politics of the labor movement and the white working class. Tracing substantive, long-standing disagreements between liberals and black workers who embraced autonomous race-based action, David M. Lewis-Colman shows how black autoworkers placed themselves at the center of Detroit's working-class politics and sought to forge a kind of working-class unity that accommodated their interests as African Americans.

This chronicle of the black labor movement in Detroit begins with the independent caucuses in the 1940s and the Trade Union Leadership Council in the 1950s, in which black workers' workplace activism crossed over into civic unionism, challenging the racial structure of the city's neighborhoods, leisure spaces, politics, and schools. By the mid-1960s, a full-blown black power movement had emerged in Detroit, and in 1968 black workers organized nationalist Revolutionary Union Movements inside the auto plants, advocating a complete break from the labor establishment. By the 1970s, the tradition of independent race-based activism among Detroit's autoworkers continued to shape the politics of the city as Coleman Young became the city's first black mayor in 1973.

Race against Liberalism is a well-written narrative that provides readers with a greater sense of the complexities of racial politics within the labor movement in postwar Detroit. Lewis-Colman’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on the UAW, but it also has broader significance for the study of Detroit, race, and race relations generally within the twentieth-century United States.”--Michigan Historical Review

“Lewis-Colman's book sheds light on just how entrenched racism was in American society and suggests that any glimmer of interracial liberalism may have been fool's gold.”--The Journal of American History

"Compelling. . . . An important piece of scholarship."--The Journal of African American History.

"Shines a much-needed-light on the politics of racial liberalism, the elephant occupying at least one room of the House of Labor. This well-research study deserves a prominent place on the reading lists of courses of American labor, urban, political, and racial history."--American Studies

"Lewis-Colman's careful history of the politics of racial liberalism is the most detailed study to date of race and black workers in the UAW from 1941 to 1973 and is a compelling contribution to labor studies, black studies, race relations, sociology, and social history."--Richard W. Thomas, author of Understanding Interracial Unity: A Study of U.S. Race Relations

"Much more than a simple institutional history of the UAW and its black members, this work deftly moves beyond this theme to other crucial issues connected to the workplace, the Detroit community, the Cold War against labor, and to the civil rights and Black Nationalist movements."--Stephen Meyer, author of "Stalin over Wisconsin": The Making and Unmaking of Militant Unionism, 1900-1950

David M. Lewis-Colman is an assistant professor of African American history at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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