Sewing change: Black dressmakers, garment workers and the struggle for rights in early twentieth century New York City /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Gayle, Janette Elice, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2015
Description:1 electronic resource (269 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Thomas C. Holt Committee members: Adam P. Green; Julie Saville.
This item is not available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 77-02(E), Section: A.
Summary:This dissertation charts the early twentieth century migration of black women from the American South and the West Indies to New York City, through their engagement with trade unionism in the New York garment industry, and ends with their participation in the early Civil Rights Movement. In arguing for the importance of black dressmakers and garment workers to fashioning the black middle class, in the making of the black industrial working class, and in the struggle for both civil and labor rights, this dissertation engages four critical processes in the early twentieth century: migration and immigration, cultural politics and class formation, labor, and civil rights. Motivated by push-pull factors such as economic decline, increased racism, and the desire for political, and personal freedom, African Americans and West Indians shared both similar desires to migrate and similar hopes for a better future. By examining the movement of Southern African Americans and West Indians as they migrated from their respective points of origin, this study reframes the Great Migration as part of a larger movement of black labor in the Atlantic World. This study examines dressmaking in black New York City from three perspectives: as an occupation that provided a living for thousands of migrant and immigrant women; as a source of self-employment for dressmakers and garment workers who, by making clothes for a black clientele, played an important role in fashioning respectability and the black middle class that emerged during the 1920s; and finally as the principal site where black women were transformed from non-industrial workers to industrial workers in the 1930s. While the majority of African American migrants and West Indian immigrants were unskilled workers, this study focuses on a skilled female component---dressmakers. Virtually invisible in previous studies, dressmakers of West Indian origin composed just over twenty percent of the female immigrant population coming to the United States. While it is not possible to pinpoint an exact number, anecdotal evidence supported by census reports shows that dressmakers were also part of the African American migrant population some of whom would ultimately make their way into the New York City garment industry. By tracing the movement of black dressmakers into the garment industry, this study recovers and expands our understanding of the integral role they played in the making of the black industrial working class. In addition, by examining the integration of black women into light industry, this dissertation reveals how work processes peculiar to garment factory production as well as the racial and ethnic composition of the workforce shaped interracial relationships in that industry and in turn complicates the story of racial conflict at the heart of the more familiar movement of black men into sectors of heavy industry in the Midwest. Finally, this dissertation charts the involvement of black garment workers in the early civil rights movement, where the skills they learned during the labor struggles of the 1930s and 1940s were integral to their participation in that movement.