There was a time when people believed that we lived in a man’s world. They thought women were inferior, even claiming that they had weaker brain power. However, some women not only disagreed with their misguided opinions but also had the courage to let their voice be heard. One such woman was Ora Lee Malone.
On October 30, 2012, Ora Lee Malone, one of the most iconic heroines of America’s trade unions passed on. Famed for fighting against gender inequality, and for the rights of workers – a passion which she pursued until her death at 93 – Ora Lee Malone is one of the greatest union organizers of all time.
Ora Malone was born on December 24, 1918, a few weeks after the end of World War I. She was born in Brooksville, Mississippi but grew up in Whistler, Alabama. While the United States of America struggled with the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Ora struggled with both the economic crisis and racial discrimination
Like most people of African descent in the south, Ora suffered through oppression, intimidation, and violence. However, she refused to remain silent. Ora joined several organizations that fought for equal rights. One of the earliest social justice movements she participated in was Operation Suffrage. Operation Suffrage was a campaign against the Boswell Amendment spearheaded by the NAACP and the Voters and Veteran’s League. The state of Alabama used the Boswell Amendment to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote. In 1949, the Federal Courts overturned this state law and deemed it unconstitutional.
Employment and Union Experience
In 1951 Ora moved to St. Louis, Missouri and found a job as a piece-worker for the California Manufacturing Company. In a relatively short time, she recognized that the company didn’t treat the employees fairly. Since the majority of the employees were African Americans, no unions were interested in stepping in to organize them and help protect their rights and jobs.
In 1956, Ora managed to bring the company’s employees under one voice. This would culminate in merging with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Owing largely to the trust fellow employees had in her, and her passion, she was voted shop steward. From here, Ora would go on to become the first Black American business representative of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1970 – a position which gave her both the exposure and confidence required to fight for the rights and needs of Black workers and female workers of all races and nationalities.
Mrs. Malone famously played a great role in the passing of the 1965 and 1970 Voting Rights Act and the Mill’s Bill that served to check the influx of cheap imported goods into the United States. She used her stature as a well-known labor leader and social activist to lobby for these two pieces of legislation in Washington, D.C.
However, what may, perhaps, stand as her biggest achievement will be the formation of the Coalition of Labor Union for Women. For the first time, women in the United States of America had a strong voice in the labor market. Ora’s tireless effort organizing female employees across the country was instrumental to the union’s founding.
Ora Lee Malone’s appetite for the advancement of Black people and women would also know no bounds. She was active in organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP), the New Democratic Coalition, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Christian Women’s Fellowship, the Women’s Political Caucus and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Her dreams would go international as she was reported to have been sympathetic to the cause women in South African labor unions. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, Ora would lend her voice. She most notably campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned by the government of the day. To her ultimate joy, she lived to see not only the day, Mandela was freed, but also the day he became president of South Africa.
Ora Lee Malone dedicated her life to campaigning for the labor unions, women, and Black people in the United States and beyond. Her contributions to the civil rights movement may be a thing African Americans will remember for a long time, but her efforts in helping workers enjoy higher wages and better working conditions will remain in the hearts of all Americans for all time.
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