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Highlights Archives

Civil Rights and Labor History for Young Readers


Portion of a poster by the Fair Employment Practices Committee calling for fair hiring of blacks and whites

When William "Blue" Jenkins was only 6 months old, he and his family moved from a Mississippi sharecropper's farm to the industrial city of Racine, Wisconsin, with dreams of a new life. As an African-American in the pre-civil rights era, Jenkins came face to face with racism: the Ku Klux Klan hung a black figure in effigy from a tree in the Jenkins family's yard. Growing up, Jenkins knew where blacks could shop, eat and get a job in Racine — and where they couldn't. The injustices that confronted Jenkins in his young life would drive his desire to make positive changes to his community and workplace in adulthood.

'Blue Jenkins: Working for Workers'

The cover of "Blue Jenkins: Working for Workers"

The newest title in the Badger Biographies series for young readers, 'Blue Jenkins: Working for Workers' by Julia Pferdehirt shares Jenkins' story as it acquaints young readers with African-American and labor history. Following an all-star career as a high school football player, Jenkins became involved in unions through his work at Belle City Malleable. As World War II raged on, he participated in the home-front battle against discrimination in work, housing and economic opportunity. When Jenkins became president of the union at Belle City, he organized blood drives and fought for safety regulations. He also helped to integrate labor union offices. In 1962 he became president of the U.A.W. National Foundry in the Midwest and found himself in charge of 50,000 foundry union members.

Labor leader, civil rights activist and family man, Blue Jenkins shows young readers how the fight for workers' and minorities' rights was fought and won through years of hard work.

:: Posted November 3, 2011

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