Home Themes

Economic Rights

Many civil rights activists argued that the racism that upheld segregation and kept Black people from voting also kept many African Americans in poverty. Many demanded access to jobs, housing, and fair pay. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom emphasized the need for greater access to good jobs for Black people in the US. While the march demanded integrated education and voting rights, it also called for a federal jobs program and a decent housing guarantee. In 1968, South Carolinians joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nationwide Poor People’s Campaign.

In 1969, hospital workers in Charleston went on strike for over 100 days to demand better working conditions and pay. Led mostly by Black women, the strike drew national attention to the issue of economic rights. Although some of the workers’ demands were met, they were not allowed to form a union and continued to fight for better working conditions and wages.

A large group of mostly Black men and women demonstrate in support of Charleston Hospital Workers.

May 11, 1969

On Mother’s Day, 1969, more than 5,000 people gathered in Charleston to support the hospital workers on strike. Mary Moultrie, a leader of the strike, led the march with Ralph and Juanita Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Courtesy of Richland Library

Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike

The Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike began on March 20, 1969. However, it was the result of months of build-up, tension, and conversations. Black women were not hired to positions of authority in the hospitals, and were instead hired to positions in which they were overqualified and underpaid. White nursing staff often treated them poorly, even though they relied on Black nursing staff to train nursing students. In December 1967, five Black nurses’ aides and practical nurses left the hospital after White nurses insisted that they ignore important aspects of patient care and safety. Black newspapers in Charleston and the Sea Islands began calling for hospital workers to unionize.
A list of the

March 17, 1969 This document from Governor Robert McNair’s papers lists the 12 workers, their job titles, their gender, and their hourly wage. $1.33/hour would be equal to approximately $10.76/ hour in 2023.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

1969 Mary Moultrie was a nurse from Charleston. After high school, she left Charleston for New York, where she found a job as a nursing assistant and became an LPN. After her mother became ill, she returned to Charleston, but was only able to find a job as a nurse’s aide that paid her only a fraction of what she had been making as an LPN with much more work. After the five Black women walked out of their hospital jobs, Mary Moultrie and others began seriously discussing the need to unionize. She became a leader in the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

Flyer calling for a boycott to support striking hospital workers.

1969 While the strike was started and led by hospital workers, it quickly grew to symbolize the frustrations of other disgruntled and marginalized workers in Charleston and beyond.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

April 25-30, 1969 During the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike, many people picketed and marched. People like Ralph Abernathy and Coretta Scott King came to Charleston to show their support for the hospital workers. Some demonstrators were arrested.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

Armed National Guardsmen clear a path through demonstrators.

April 25, 1969 On April 25, 1969, South Carolina Governor Robert McNair ordered the National Guard to intervene in the strikes, arresting multiple people.

May 8, 1969 Ralph Abernathy arrives in Columbia and is interviewed about the goals and duration of the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

April 1969 While in Charleston for the Hospital Workers’ Strike, Coretta Scott King gave a speech in support of the striking hospital workers.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

“After all, $1.30 is not a wage; it is an insult.”

Coretta Scott King

Other Parts of the Struggle for Economic Rights

While the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike of 1969 may be the best-known push for workers’ and economic rights, South Carolina’s civil rights activists knew that the fight for equality was not a one-time event, but an ongoing struggle.
Poster for War on Poverty Mass Meeting in Hampton County, SC.

During the latter part of the 1960s, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations shifted their emphasis toward economic rights. In South Carolina, people like Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Rev. Isaiah DeQuincey Newman, and attorney Matthew Perry worked toward the goal of improving economic rights.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

Six people in front of boxes labeled

1939 In this picture, Levi Byrd (seated, fourth from left) is pictured with the Chesterfield County Hunger Committee of the NAACP. Civil rights activists worked toward improving the daily lives of African Americans, socially, educationally, politically, and economically.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

Bernard Moore letter to Rev. I. D. Newman

May 27, 1963 Bernard Moore wrote to Isaiah DeQuincey Newman about a protest against a construction company that would not hire African Americans.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections