Celebrating African American History Month – By: Labor Heritage Foundation

Introduction:  Fredrick D. Redmond

Fredrick D. Redmond is the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. He was elected to the position by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on

Fredrick Redmond

Aug. 20, 2021, and is the first African American to hold this office in the history of the labor federation. He had previously served on the federation’s Executive Council since 2008.

As international vice president for human affairs, a position to which he was first elected to in 2006, Redmond oversaw the union’s Civil and Human Rights Department and worked with USW allies across the country in responding to attacks on voting rights and in combating economic inequality.

Redmond has spent his entire life fighting for racial justice in the workplace and throughout our communities.            

In 2016, he was appointed to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs, and in 2020, Redmond was tapped to chair the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice, a body focused on taking concrete action to address America’s long history of racism and police violence against Black people.

Redmond has served on the board of directors of Working America, the TransAfrica Forum, the Workers Defense League, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Interfaith Worker Justice and, since 2007, has served as chair of the board of directors of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. In 2021, Redmond was elected president of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, a prestigious international post.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman learned from her father how to navigate by the stars, as well as forage for fresh water and food. In school one might have learned how she lead so many to freedom from slavery, including her parents and brothers, but never were we taught how she could keep everyone fed during those incredibly dangerous journeys. Often those escaping slavery had to rely on opportunity, so they could hardly be prepared to escape with a large supply of food and water. No, they fled for their lives with nothing but a desire to be free.

What many don’t hear about is Harriet’s amazing wilderness skills and knowledge. There are some reports that Harriet had some 19 different routes to lead those seeking freedom to safety, although even to this day, no one knows all the routes she may have used to travel north to south and back again. They would travel by night and if they needed to hide, she would use owl calls such as the call of the Barred Owl to signal danger or safety.

On her routes to Maryland and sometimes Canada, she understood that the best way to confuse a dog’s nose was to cross the many rivers, streams and other waterways during their journey. Harriet Tubman also had vast knowledge of plant life, she knew what plants were food, or medicine.

Her astounding intellect concerning nature allowed her to forage food even in the depths of winter. She had to know and understand the subtle characteristics of plants to avoid eating poisonous plants. This involved not only knowing the plant but insect behaviour as well, as all these things told a story to Harriet. A story that said, this is safe to eat, or this will kill you. During the winter she and the people she guided survived on acorns and other wild nuts. When maneuvering through a forest at night, a crying child or newborn could mean death. She would dose the children with herbal tinctures of opium poppies to put them to sleep and thus keeping them quiet while keeping everyone else safe from discovery.

Harriet Tubman’s skills were what we would today call a “naturalist” were unmatched. Even now, her legacy has inspired groups such as “Outdoor Afro” who, according to their website, are:

“…the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation. So come out in nature with us or be a partner to help us grow our work so that we can help lead the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation for all!”

Harriet Tubman’s keen intellect, coupled with her unbeatable desire to be free and to share that freedom was quite possibly unmatched. Her story will continue to be told generation after generation simply because it is a story and a life that must remain as an ever-present touchstone and reminder that freedom must be gained and shared no matter how difficult the journey. One can only trust that the spirit of Harriet continues to hear the gratitude from all those who today, stand free, because she led their ancestors to a place where they could be a free people.

One imagines and wonders what she would think of the lives of African Americans today, knowing that struggle remains for true equity – I have a feeling her determined face would fill our screens and her words would rally against those inequities.

Arlene Holt Baker

Arlene Holt Baker

Arlene Holt Baker began her work in the labor movement in Los Angeles in 1972. As a member of AFSCME, she began organizing clerical employees who worked for the city. That process taught her that collective bargaining was the way to empower people economically. Read more.

Kenneth Rigmaiden

Kenneth Rigmaiden

Kenneth Rigmaiden, the general president of the Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). Listen as he details his journey from a floor covering installer in San Jose, California, to the highest ranks of the labor movement. Listen to the “State of the Unions” full podcast here.

The White House was, in Fact, Built by Enslaved Labor – read more

When First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage during the first night of the Democratic National Convention, she talked about how it felt to be a Black woman waking up in the White House every morning…Read more of this Smithsonian article.

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