Victoria W. Wolcott is a professor of history at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, where she teaches urban, African American, and women's history. She is the author of Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (2001) and Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America (2012). Her current book project, "Living in the Future: The Utopian Strain in the Long Civil Rights Movement," focuses on the emergence of experimental interracial communities in mid-twentieth-century America and their influence on the long civil rights movement. She is also researching the life of African American pacifist and civil rights activist Eroseanna Robinson.
In recent years scholarship on the “New Negro movement” has expanded our understanding of the Black experience. Much of this work has emphasized Black Nationalist and anticolonial struggles, particularly Garveyism. This lecture will explore a lesser-known aspect of African American interwar activism, workers’ education. In the early twentieth century Black and white women in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) launched an American workers’ education movement that would shape not only the labor movement, but also the civil rights and feminist movements. Black female activists, such as Ella Baker and Pauli Murray, were key players in this movement through their work at Brookwood Labor College, the cooperative movement, and New Deal agencies. Their vision and energy shaped an international movement committed to racial and class equality.