History Department
History Department

Assistant Professor Green selected for 2008 Taft Labor History Prize

Wed, June 18, 2008

Green's book, Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle, "...is a highly original contribution to the labor historiography of race, gender, and class in an important southern city during the crucial period for civil rights movement mobilization at the grassroots," wrote the Taft Prize committee. It was published by University of North Carolina Press in May 2007.

"Our selection is based not only on how well the book is written, but also on the quality and depth of historical scholarship and innovative use of historical sources. Sometimes we look at how the book takes a familiar topic and finds a way to do something different with it, and provide a new perspective,” said Ileen DeVault, chair of the selection committee and of the Industrial and Labor Relations's (ILR) department of collective bargaining, labor law and labor history.

"Blacks in Memphis had been battling for freedom from discrimination in all facets of their everyday lives for decades," said Green. "Memphis was dominated by corrupt, racist city officials since the 1930s and blacks struggled to overcome what many referred to as a 'plantation mentality' that kept them relegated to menial, low-paying jobs."

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped spur the now famous Memphis sanitation workers strike, in which they walked the streets with signs proclaiming "I AM A MAN." But this bold action was preceded by many others that started long before most realize. A case in point dates from the 1940s, during the nation's mobilization for World War II, when African American women applied for the now-famous "Rosie the Riveter" jobs in defense plants, only to be turned away and sent to jobs as maids. Green also writes about protests against police brutality, voter registration drives, and the creation of WDIA, the first U.S. radio station with all "black-oriented" programming, WDIA.

There is a $1,500 cash award that comes with the Taft Prize named for Professor Philip Taft, who was one of America's first historians about the nation's labor movement. The ILR at Cornell University has administered the competition each year since 1978.

Battling the Plantation Mentality was also a finalist for the Organization of American Historian's (OAH) 2008 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award. This award was established in 2002 by the OAH to promote more research on the beginnings of the civil rights movement from the founding of the United States to the present.

By Martha-Gail Moore

Related Links:
Learn more about Assistant Prof. Green
2008 Taft Labor History Book Award
ILR School at Cornell University
OAH Liberty Legacy Foundation Award

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