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Labor Day Memories in Florida: Racism, Respect and Equity Unrealized

Today is Labor Day, a federal holiday celebrated here in the United States. Schools are closed. Most governmental entities on all levels are closed. Banks are closed. There is no mail delivery. Many people are not working. They will flock to the beach or enjoy cookouts or just relax in front of a television or take advantage of sales at the mall or online. So, what is the purpose of this holiday we call Labor Day?

Labor Day, celebrated on the first Monday in September, was designed to honor the American Labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the success of the nation. Labor Day Weekend is also considered the end of summer. 

My email boxes have been overrun with perfunctory messages acknowledging and celebrating Labor Day. The message below was very different as it conveys the true sacrifice of American labor. It touches upon a movement not discussed nearly enough. It impacted me personally as both of my parents participated in the Florida Statewide Teachers' Walkout which resulted in my family relocating to Miami. Please read this reflection penned by NAACP Florida State Conference President and NAACP National Board of Directors member Adora Obi Nweze.



Subject: Labor Day Memories

Good Morning All,

This Labor Day marks a special time for many of us. It marks the 50th year Anniversary of the Florida Teachers' Walk Out. The purpose of the Walk Out was to fight for many working rights that we did not have. As members of the working class, I still can't believe all we endured in the face of criticisms hurled at us daily throughout the Walk Out. The memories will be seared in my mind forever. The pain of being told that , "real teachers were in the classroom". I remember the tears that flowed from my eyes, knowing that I loved all children just as l loved my own. And I still do and always. I began my teaching career feeling the fight would never end. Little did I know I would be right. During my years as a Miami-Dade County Public Schools District Administrator in the areas of Title 1 , Special Education, Teen Parent programs and other Alternative Education programs, I never forgot for one day, my experiences as a teacher. I wanted every teacher to know that I was privileged to work with them and that they were a part of the most honorable professions in the world. They deserved to be paid, respected, honored and treated like the top professionals that they were and would always be.

This year, I have been invited by the Florida Education Association (FEA) to participate as one of the major speakers to dialogue about the WalkOut days. I feel honored to share publicly for the first time my own experiences. Many thanks to FEA for the opportunity. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always be a Master Teacher and a member of the World's Number One Profession.

Adora Obi Nweze

As American workers continue to address working conditions, income disparity and fight for livable wages. As the assault and dismantling of public education and labor unions continue, the significance of Labor Day should be shared with the generations of Americans that have benefited from the sacrifices of those who paved the way for equal pay, equal rights and civil rights. I recall my parents praise for the teacher unions (FEA and United Teachers of a Dade) for ensuring black teachers the same pay as their white colleagues. Also, opportunities for educational and employment advancement for all teachers were celebrated and appreciated.

I thank my parents, Adora Obi Nweze, and every other teacher who participated in the movement that forever changed labor laws in Florida. Unfortunately, the courage and faith it took to choose dignity, integrity, respect and equality rather than endure disparate working conditions may no longer be embraced by this current generation of leaders and workers. Locally, many of the gains of the striking teachers appear to have been lost especially when it comes to advocating for and ensuring the effective teaching and learning of black children and advocating and ensuring there are education leadership opportunities for community-oriented black administrators. 


One of my favorite writers and commentators is trial lawyer Chuck Hobbs of Tallahassee. To fully understand and frame this holiday we celebrate, I strongly encourage you to read and share his post: The Labor Day Holiday derives from racism and violence towards Black Workers. Here's an excerpt:

In May of 1886, the Haymarket Riot in Chicago erupted when workers who were staging a peaceful protest were met by a contingent of police officers. A bomb exploded, gunfire was exchanged, four people were killed and four anarchists were later hanged.

While an unofficial commemoration of the Haymarket Riot would come to be celebrated as “Labor Day,” seven years after the Haymarket Riot, during President Grover Cleveland’s second non-successive administration (Cleveland served from 1884-88; Benjamin Harrison served interregnum from 1888-92, when Cleveland won again), a Pullman Railroad Strike that placed America dangerously close to a second civil war would serve as the backdrop of what would officially become the Labor Day holiday that we still observe.

Inarguably there is still much work to be done to change the consciousness of Black people, strategize, energize and mobilize for progress. We have the opportunity to effect positive change. Do we have the courage? Do we have will? To the disdain of our forebearers, have we essentially been neutered into lip service and excuses? 

There are far too few examples of leaders in the Black community in Miami that demonstrate the integrity and intestinal fortitude to truly fight the good fight for the people rather than for their individual notoriety or financial gain. Let's support people who support us. Most important let's start by supporting ourselves and our community. 


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