To hear the story behind the Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right cover photo, listen to the TCF policycast:
PolicyCast I Am a Man
The publication of The Century Foundation Book Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, by TCF senior fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg and labor attorney Moshe Z. Marvit, presented some unique challenges. One of which was that, despite a long history of cooperation between the civil rights movement and the labor movement, some critics think that any attempt to unify the two is a forced fit. As argued in the book and elsewhere, however, denials of the common purpose of these two strong movements are typically made by those who want to divide and conquer the two major partners working toward social and economic progress.
In many ways, the attempts to separate the concerns of labor activists and civil rights leaders have been successful. After decades of cooperation on important issues, these two strong movements have seen their alliance become increasingly fractured in the era following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the resulting period of political estrangement has seen very little in terms of national progress. Thankfully, there are signs that this trend is being reversed by the renewed efforts of labor and civil rights leaders.
This long gap in cooperation between the two movements posed another challenge regarding the book in question: What image to put on the cover? What would galvanize the potential reader into seeing the unity between civil rights and labor? To find an iconic photograph that best incorporated elements of the civil rights movement and the labor movement, we felt we needed to go back over four decades, to the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike.
Because it was the last appearance by King before his death, images from that strike are among the most memorable for the civil rights movement, and, importantly, for the labor movement as well. In terms of the book, then, a photograph from that strike was an easy choice for the cover, as it would strongly convey the unity of purpose between the two movements. As it turns out, however, even the choice of such a powerful image is not without a slight controversy of its own. . . .