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Thompson, Ernest, 1907-1971.
Papers, 1943-1976 (bulk 1951-1970).
Manuscript Collection 1180
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 7, 1907, Ernest Thompson grew up on his grandfather's farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore. His immediate family included his grandfather, Philip Henry Thompson, parents Joshua and Jennie, sisters Sarah and Lorraine, and brothers Olin and Robert. At age 13, Thompson went to live with his aunt in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he attended evening school.
One of Thompson's first jobs, at age 16, was working on the construction of New York's Holland Tunnel. Thompson then found employment as a core maker for the American Radiator plant in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he worked until 1943.
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
At the American Radiator Company, Thompson organized an independent union and was elected the union's president, a position which he held for approximately 10 or 12 years. Under his leadership, the shop first joined the American Federation of Labor, but later (in 1940) affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (U.E.), one of the leading militant unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
In 1943 Thompson became the first African-American field organizer for the U.E., conducting organizing campaigns in Jersey City and surrounding areas, and in Baltimore, Maryland. From 1946 to 1950, he was the business manager for U.E. locals 427 and 446, in Bayonne and Jersey City, respectively. His responsibilities as business manager included administration, contract negotiation, time study analysis, organizing workers and political action. Much of Thompson's political action work during the 1940s, however, was undertaken as the executive officer of the Hudson County C.I.O. Council, a position which he held from 1942 to 1950. In developing political power for workers in the region, he ran candidates for city, county and state government offices.
From 1951 to 1956, Thompson served as the Secretary (i.e., director) of the U.E.'s National Fair Practices Committee. While serving as Secretary, he formed a strong coalition of women and Blacks which developed training programs to prepare workers to advance to better positions and which promoted the appointment of non-whites and women into leadership positions.
National Negro Labor Council
Thompson was one of the founders of the National Negro Labor Council which grew to over 50,000 members in 53 cities. He was the Council's theoretician, drafting the keynote address for its first convention, as well as position papers outlining the organization's views. His travel as Secretary of the U.E. National Fair Practices Committee permitted him to undertake major responsibility for the organizational work of the National Negro Labor Council's first convention. He convinced workers in various cities of the need for the Council and articulated the role of African-American labor in the struggle for economic, political and social equality.
As Director of Organization, Thompson was at the center of the National Negro Labor Council's jobs campaigns against discrimination in employment. During the early 1950s, the Council led the nation's first Black mass job campaigns, targeting Sears-Roebuck, the airlines, the railroads and, in Louisville, Kentucky, both the Ford Motor Company and General Electric.
The National Negro Labor Council disbanded in 1956 under pressure from the federal government's Subversive Activities Control Board. The same year, Thompson's position as Secretary for the U.E.'s National Fair Practices Committee was terminated when the membership in the New York-New Jersey area departed from that union, which had been independent of the Congress of Industrial Organizations since 1946, in favor of the C.I.O.'s International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (I.U.E.).
Thompson relocated to Orange, New Jersey, in 1956. His skills as a labor and political campaign organizer were subsequently manifested in several community program activities in Orange, Newark and other northern New Jersey cities.
In Orange, Thompson founded Citizens for Representative Government in the city's east ward in 1958 and served as its director of organization. The efforts of CRG led to passage of a referendum to change the form of city government. A result of the charter change was African-American political representation in Orange's wards for the first time, including the election of Benjamin F. Jones, the first Black city council member, and of John Alexander, the first Black school board president. Using CRG as a model, other wards in the city developed similar political organizations. To coordinate these organizations, the Amalgamated Organizations for Good Government was formed in 1965, thereby uniting African-American political power in the whole of Orange. Thompson served as the organizational director of the newly formed coalition.
Beginning about 1964, Thompson was a labor advisor to the Newark Coordinating Council. The following year he represented the Council on its negotiating committee which lobbied for equal employment opportunities at the Rutgers University Law School and at the Newark College for Engineering construction sites in Newark. As part of this effort, Thompson mobilized the African-American elected officials of Essex County. Meetings with the attorney general and governor of New Jersey led to the desegregation of many of the trades through state enforcement of civil rights laws.
In 1965 Thompson also was program director of the Orange Higher Achievement Tutoring Program. In subsequent years he served on the advisory committee for Title I tutoring programs in Orange.
Thompson helped to organize the Tri-City Citizens Union for Progress in 1967. Two years later Tri-City, which had operations in Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, established the "Amity Village" rehab and cooperative housing project in Newark.
Ernest Thompson died on January 27, 1971, at his home in Orange, New Jersey, after nearly three years of illness. He was 64 years of age. Surviving him were his wife, Margaret Brown, and four children, Mindy, Beverly, Ernest and Josh.
Scope and Content Note
The 1.6 cubic feet of documents comprising the papers of Ernest Thompson (1907-1971), labor leader and community activist, span the period 1943 to 1976, although the bulk of his papers dates from 1951 to 1970. The papers reflect two distinct periods in Thompson's career. Material from the period 1951 to 1956 documents Thompson's union activities while Director of Organization for the National Negro Labor Council and while Secretary of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America's National Fair Practices Committee. Material from the period 1958 to 1970 documents Thompson's activities relating to educational reform and the development of African-American political power in Orange, New Jersey. Not documented in the papers are Thompson's early activities as a union organizer during the 1940s.
The Ernest Thompson papers are arranged into six series in two subgroups. The subgroup for Thompson himself includes five series. The remaining series is included in the subgroup for Thompson's daughter Mindy. In the Thompson papers are letters received, copies of letters sent, memoranda, legal briefs and proceedings, organization position papers, reports, minutes, radio program scripts, a transcript of an audiotape, holograph notes and photographs. Various printed materials can also be found, including press clippings, brochures, press releases, pamphlets, broadsides and campaign leaflets.
Papers documenting Thompson's union activities are in the U.E. NATIONAL FAIR PRACTICES COMMITTEE FILE (1944, 1946, 1948 and 1950-1958) and the NATIONAL NEGRO LABOR COUNCIL FILE (1951-1957 and 1970-1971). As Secretary of the U.E.'s National Fair Practices Committee, Thompson formed a strong coalition of women and Black workers, promoting programs of comparable pay for comparable work, training programs to prepare workers to advance to better positions, and appointments of non-whites and women into leadership positions. Included in the National Negro Labor Council papers are Thompson's introduction of President William R. Hood at the founding convention of the Council and resolutions of the organization regarding its jobs campaigns against General Electric and Ford Motor Company (in Louisville), Sears-Roebuck, the airlines and railroads. This series also contains material on the U.S. Subversive Activities Control Board, the dissolution of the Council and a 1970 reunion of Council leaders which includes a transcript of a discussion between Thompson, Coleman A. Young and others.
Thompson's CITIZENS FOR REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT FILE (1953, 1958-1970 and 1976) and his GENERAL FILE (1943, 1955-1956, 1959 and 1964-1969) document his activities with community organizations in Orange and other northern New Jersey cities. Subjects reflected in the papers are school desegregation, housing, urban education, a jobs campaign against the construction trades in Newark, apprenticeship training and local politics in Orange. Also included in the GENERAL FILE is a folder of materials reflecting concerns expressed by African-American trade unionists on the occasion of the merger of the Congress of Industrial Organizations with the American Federation of Labor.
The series of PHOTOGRAPHS in the Thompson papers, together with the series of WRITINGS in the Mindy Thompson papers subgroup, reflect national union activities as well as local community organization efforts in Orange, New Jersey. The photographs are black-and-white prints depicting a National Negro Labor Council convention and picket line, and a ceremony of the Orange Higher Achievement Tutoring Program of which Thompson was director. In the series WRITINGS are holograph notes and drafts of chapters of two books, The National Negro Labor Council: A History (1978) written by Mindy Thompson and Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power (1976) written by Ernest and Mindy Thompson.
The documents in the Ernest Thompson papers fall into two subgroups, the first consisting of five series of Thompson's own papers and the second consisting of one series of papers of Thompson's daughter Mindy Thompson (later Mindy Thompson Fullilove). Three series, the U.E. NATIONAL FAIR PRACTICES COMMITTEE FILE, the NATIONAL NEGRO LABOR COUNCIL FILE and the CITIZENS FOR REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT FILE, are essentially the filing units in which the papers were arranged when received. Thompson's GENERAL FILE groups together documentation of Thompson's activities in various northeastern New Jersey organizations, excluding Citizens for Representative Government. The WRITINGS, in the Mindy Thompson subgroup, and the PHOTOGRAPHS, originally scattered within the papers, were brought together for the researcher's convenience.
When received, the Thompson papers were contained in a number of large envelopes. Within the envelopes only some of the documents were arranged into folders. Because of this degree of disorder, it was necessary to supply folder headings for some of the material. In all cases the supplied headings were enclosed in brackets to distinguish them from folder headings used by Thompson. In addition, certain folder headings used by Thompson were expanded without the use of brackets, e.g., "Amity Village" to "Amity Village (Tri-City Citizens Union for Progress)" to reflect the specific organization in which Thompson was involved.
During the processing of the Thompson papers some printed materials pertaining to New Jersey were removed to other locations within Special Collections and University Archives, including duplicate broadsides and pamphlets, a copy of Ernest and Mindy Thompson's book Homeboy Came to Orange (call number: SPCOL/UA SNCLNJ E185.96 .T56 1976) and a printed map of the east ward of the City of Orange.
NATIONAL NEGRO LABOR COUNCIL FILE, 1951-1957 and 1970-1971. (.25 cubic ft.)
Arranged alphabetically by folder heading.
Documentation of Ernest Thompson's activities in the National Negro Labor Council. The papers pertain to conventions, labor campaigns, the U.S. Subversive Activities Control Board, dissolution of the Council and a 1970 reunion of Council leaders. Included are yearbooks, brochures, convention reports, resolutions, minutes, press releases, notes, speeches, correspondence, pamphlets, leaflets, transcripts of radio programs and miscellaneous legal documents, including a petition and proceedings before the Subversive Activities Control Board.
Among the documents in this series are Ernest Thompson's introduction of President William R. Hood at the founding convention of the National Negro Labor Council, a 1953 address before the Council by Paul Robeson and the transcript of a meeting between Thompson, Coleman A. Young and others at a 1970 reunion of the Council leadership in Newark, New Jersey.
U.E. NATIONAL FAIR PRACTICES COMMITTEE FILE, 1944, 1946, 1948 and 1950-1958. (.55 cubic ft.)
Arranged alphabetically by folder heading.
Documentation of campaigns of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and of the activities of Ernest Thompson as Secretary of the union's National Fair Practices Committee. These papers pertain to conventions and conferences, women and African-American workers, and a Louisville campaign against International Harvester. Included are pamphlets, brochures, reports, drafts of reports, broadsides, notes, transcripts of radio programs and plays, correspondence, minutes, court briefs, press clippings, newsletters, memoranda and resolutions.
Among the documents in this series is a typed letter of appreciation from the Montgomery Improvement Association which is signed "Rosa Parks," although the signature is that of a secretary.
CITIZENS FOR REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT FILE, 1953, 1958-1970 and 1976. (.3 cubic ft.)
Arranged alphabetically by folder heading.
Documentation of Ernest Thompson's activities in Citizens for Representative Government and affiliated organizations in Orange, New Jersey. The majority of the documents pertains to campaign organizing for local government elections; some of the material pertains to housing issues and school district gerrymandering. Included are brochures, press releases, newspaper clippings, campaign leaflets, correspondence, notes, broadsides, position papers, and lists of names and addresses.
GENERAL FILE, 1943, 1955-1956, 1958-1959 and 1964-1969. (.35 cubic ft.)
Arranged alphabetically by folder heading.
Documentation of Ernest Thompson's activities in northeastern New Jersey organizations other than Citizens for Representative Government. The papers pertain to housing rehabilitation, anti-poverty programs, apprenticeship training and public education. Included are reports, correspondence, press clippings, brochures, campaign leaflets, lists of names and addresses, notes, proposed budgets and program proposals. Organizations represented include the Amalgamated Organizations for Good Government, the Committee for Negro Progress in '66, the Orange Higher Achievement Tutoring Program, the Newark Coordinating Council and the Tri-City Citizens Union for Progress.
Among the documents in this series are copies of Ernest Thompson's resumes, letters of commendation, and scattered resolutions and minutes of a group of New Jersey African-American trade unionists on the occasion of the merger between the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor.
Material in the folder "Rutgers Job Fight (Newark Coordinating Council), 1964-1966" relates to the Council's efforts to end discriminatory hiring practices by unions and contractors at the construction sites of the Rutgers University School of Law and at the Newark College of Engineering.
PHOTOGRAPHS, undated. (.02 cubic ft.)
Black-and-white photographic prints of National Negro Labor Council activities at a convention and on a picket line, and of a ceremony for the Orange Higher Achievement Tutoring Program, of which Thompson was director.
One photograph includes Thompson, at approximately age 61, and Dr. John Alexander, the first African-American president of the Orange, New Jersey, school board.
WRITINGS, undated. (.13 cubic ft.)
Grouped by publication.
Drafts of the books Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power (1976), written by Ernest and Mindy Thompson, and of The National Negro Labor Council: A History (1978), written by Mindy Thompson. Included are correspondence, notes, holograph drafts of the book Homeboy, a draft of The National Negro Labor Council, and lists of names and addresses.
Among the documents in this series is a letter, dated June 23, 1970, from Coleman A. Young to Mindy Thompson which
discusses the National Negro Labor Council and Ernest Thompson's role in the Council.
BOX FOLDER CONTENTS Ernest Thompson 1 NATIONAL NEGRO LABOR COUNCIL FILE 1 [Convention Yearbooks], 1952-1953 2 Conventions and Organization, 1951-1954 3 [Dissolution], 1956-1957 4 Louisville Campaign, 1952-1955 5 [Publications], undated 6 [Resident Committee Meeting Minutes], 1954 and 1956 7 Reunion, 1970-1971 (1) U.E. FAIR PRACTICES COMMITTEE FILE 8 [Conventions and Conferences], 1954-1955 9 [Literary Productions: Notes, Reports, Etc.], 1952 and 1955-1956 10 Louisville, undated
BOX FOLDER CONTENTS Ernest Thompson [continued] 2 U.E. FAIR PRACTICES COMMITTEE FILE [continued] 1 Louisville Story (Script), undated 2 Memos--Interoffice and Miscellaneous, 1950-1956 3 [Miscellany: Minutes, Briefs, Etc.], 1944 and 1955-1956 4 Negro History Week, 1955-1958 5 [Negro Workers], 1955-1956 6 [Newsletters], 1954-1956 7 [Publications], undated 8 [Testimonial Dinner], 1956 9 Tiffin Memorial Awards, 1955-1956 10 [U.E. v. IUE-CIO, IBEW-AFL, UAW-CIO, Etc.], 1955 11 U.E. Equal Pay Case, 1954-1955 12 [U.E. Local Shops], 1946, 1948 and 1954-1956 13 [Women Workers], 1954-1956
BOX FOLDER CONTENTS Ernest Thompson [continued] 3 CITIZENS FOR REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT FILE 1 Alexander City Commission Election, 1958 2 Charter Change, 1958 and 1961-1962 3 [Election Campaign Miscellany], 1958 4 Housing, 1958-1959, 1962 and 1964 5 Housing--Laura Longshore, 1959 6 Housing--Frank Palmieri, 1953 and 1959 7 Jones Election Campaigns, 1963, 1967-1970 and 1976 8 [Miscellany], 1958-1966 and 1968 9 Primaries 1958/Registration Campaign/Election of Grimsley, 1958-1959 10 School Fight, 1958 11 Scott Election Campaign, 1964 (3) GENERAL FILE 12 A.F.L.-C.I.O. Merger (Negro trade unionists), 1955-1956 13 Amalgamated Organizations for Good Government, undated 14 Amity Village (Tri-City Citizens Union for Progress), 1968-1969 15-16 Anti-Poverty/Title I/Tutorial Programs, 1965-1966
BOX FOLDER CONTENTS Ernest Thompson [continued] 4 GENERAL FILE [continued] 1-2 Anti-Poverty/Title I/Tutorial Programs, 1967 and undated 3 Apprentice Training--Rutgers, Orange Pre-Apprentice, 1964-1965 4 Initial Teaching Alphabet, 1964-1969 5 [Miscellany], 1958-1959, 1964 and 1967 6 Negro Progress in 66 (Committee for Negro Progress in '66), 1965-1966 7 [Personal Correspondence, Commendations, Etc.], 1943, 1958, 1964 and 1966-1969 8 [Resumes], undated 9 Rutgers Job Fight (Newark Coordinating Council), 1964-1966 10 Tri-City Citizens Union for Progress, 1966-1969 (4) 11 PHOTOGRAPHS, undated Mindy Thompson (4) WRITINGS 12 [Correspondence], 1970 13 [Notes--National Negro Labor Council: A History], undated 14 [First Draft--National Negro Labor Council: A History], undated 15 [Notes--Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power], undated