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Legacy of Local 22 to be honored on April 20 in Winston-Salem

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Celebrating the union that brought the R.J.R. "giant down to earth"

In 1943, African-American tobacco leaf workers initiated a sit-down strike at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the South during the height of Jim Crow. The strikers’ refusal to work in poor conditions for little pay in a segregated environment sparked seven years of hard struggle for workplace democracy. Local 22 proved to be a model for other interracial labor movements that were to follow in the South during the 1940's. Its impact continued to be felt years later during the civil rights struggle when African-Americans mobilized to end segregation in the U.S.

A website about Local 22 ( has been setup to archive the history of the civil rights unionism in Local 22 that brought a titan of industry down to earth. The website features several amazing photos and an incredible micro-documentary, Local 22: Bringing the giant down to earth, by freelance multimedia journalist Jonathan Michels.

You've really gotta watch this video (2:46):

Local 22: Bringing the giant down to earth from Jonathan Michels on Vimeo.

70 years later, Local 22 gets its due

On April 20, 2013 - seventy years later - a coalition of Occupy Winston-Salem members, labor unions, local churches, activists, and community members will unveil a commemorative state marker to celebrate the anniversary of the historic sit-down strike near the tobacco district of downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

What: March and Rally followed unveiling of historical marker for Local 22
When: Saturday, April 20, 2013 beginning at 12 noon
Where: events begin at First Calvary Baptist Church, 401 Woodland Ave, Winston-Salem, NC 27101

The commemoration will include community members with connections to Local 22. A forum will take place in conjunction with the marker unveiling and will address current labor and social justice issues affecting workers. Speakers will include:

Larry Little, an associate professor of political science at Winston-Salem State University and former Winston-Salem alderman. Little’s mother worked at R.J. Reynolds during the 1940s, and was a member of Local 22.

Robert Korstad, professor of public policy and history at Duke University and author of “Civil Rights Unionism” which details the exploits of Local 22.

Richard Koritz, elected representative for the National Association for Letter Carriers of North Carolina and a member of the board of directors for the International Civil Rights Museum and Center. Koritz’s father, Philip Koritz, was the director of Local 22.

Earline Parmon, is a North Carolina State Senator representing the 32nd district. Parmon was mentored by Local 22 leader, Velma Hopkins.

Justin Flores, organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, FLOC AFL-CIO, representing tobacco farm workers since 2008, FLOC has lobbied Reynolds American, Inc. to recognize the stake they have in the health and well-being of the laborers who harvest the tobacco that’s used in their products.

Linda Sutton, the Field Organizer for Democracy NC in Guilford and Forsyth Counties, the Chair of the Forsyth county Board of Elections. She serves on the NAACP Executive Committee and Political Action Chair, and was a former Union Organizer and Special Voter Registration Commissioner.

Roz Pelles, a native of Winston-Salem and a passionate supporter of Local 22, and the former national Director of the AFL-CIO Civil, Human, and Women’s Rights Department.

Here's the schedule of events:

  • 12 noon - Panel Discussion & Forum
  • 1:30pm - March down 4th Street to the Tobacco District
  • 1:45pm - Rally in Tobacco District
  • 2:15pm - March or Bus Ride to Historic Marker  at the corner of Fourth St and Martin Luther King Drive
  • 2:30pm - Marker Unveiling

Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson came to Winston-Salem because the struggles of Local 22 inspired them. You won't want to miss this event because the struggle continues...

For more information, visit