Black Labor

This Labor Day, our Review of the Week honors the historical contributions of the black working class in American developments

Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America

Trotter, Joe William. California, 2019
296p index, 9780520299450 $29.95, 9780520971172 $29.95

Workers on arrival: black labor in the making of America book cover. Black and white photograph of railroad workers on/next to the front of a train.

Trotter is a history professor and directs Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy; this book shows the fruitful results of decades of scholarship in the field. This vital contribution is particularly timely after a period in which “the working class” has somehow become synonymous with white Americans in the middle of the country. In fact, African Americans have been central to that history, including now in a new global capitalist economy. With consummate skill and compression of prose, the book surveys the “lives and labor of black workers within the larger context of urban capitalist development, community formation, and politics from the transatlantic slave trade to recent times” (as Trotter puts it in the prologue), with a particular emphasis on black labor and transnational liberation movements that challenged the coercive nature of the ways capitalist economies shaped black America. Another notable feature of the text is the close attention given to black women’s working lives. The final chapters consider black working lives in post-industrial economies. Also included is a lengthy essay on sources, itself worth the price of admission. A splendidly rigorous and authoritative text from an accomplished senior scholar.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates and above.
P. Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Interdisciplinary Subjects: African and African American Studies
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Business, Management & Labor
Choice Issue: Jun 2019