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John Matthews

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Information about John Matthews

Profile image of John Matthews

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Salesman
Community Activist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Aquamarine
Favorite Food:
Lobster, Clams, Oysters
Favorite Time of Year:
Hunting Season
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Jamaica, Bermuda, Panama
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/7/1910
Birth Location:
Panama,

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
CivicMakers
Occupation(s):
Salesman
Community Activist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Aquamarine
Favorite Food:
Lobster, Clams, Oysters
Favorite Time of Year:
Hunting Season
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Jamaica, Bermuda, Panama
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/7/1910
Birth Location:
Panama
See how John Matthews is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Community activist and union organizer John Alderman Matthews, Sr. was born on March 3, 1910 in the Panama Canal Zone to Theresa and Christopher Sylvester Matthews, a homemaker and a school teacher from Jamaica. One of seven siblings, Matthews grew up and attended high school in Kingston, Jamaica. After high school, Matthews moved to New York City, where over the years, he studied at New York University, the New School of Social Research, City Colleges of New York, and Bronx Community College.

Matthews began working in the field of civil rights in 1935 when he and four other workers formed the first picket line against the Transport Workers Union. At the same time, he became a founding member of the Harlem Labor Union, forcing the union to accept African American as bus drivers. In 1943, Matthews attended military school in New Jersey and served in the 92nd United States Infantry Division in Europe.

After returning from the war, Matthews went to work as a salesman, but continued his community activism. He founded a bartenders’ and restaurant workers’ union that broke open employment barriers in Harlem and the rest of New York City in the mid-1950s. In 1963, he worked as a campaign secretary to U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. In the mid-1960s, Matthews spearheaded efforts that ended discriminatory hiring or membership practices by Bond Clothing Stores, Bronx State Hospital, Park Sheraton Hotel, Borden’s, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. This work culminated in Matthews, who had earlier become the first Vice President of the New York Chapter of the NAACP, being named chairman of the NAACP Labor and Industry Department in 1967.

Throughout the late 1960s, Matthews continued his political activism, founding the Kennedy Democratic Club. He was recognized for his accomplishments in Newsweek magazine in 1995. Throughout his life, Matthews continued to organize communities under tenants and youth organizations.

Matthews was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 17, 2006.

Matthews passed away on March 28, 2013.

See how John Matthews is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Matthews' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Matthews lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Matthews describes his parents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Matthews describes his parents' move to the Panama Canal Zone
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Matthews describes his childhood in Kingston, Jamaica
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Matthews describes his grandparents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Matthews describes his childhood in Cuba
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John Matthews recalls his high school education in Jamaica and New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John Matthews describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - John Matthews recalls attending night school in New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - John Matthews describes New York City's Harlem neighborhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - John Matthews describes his life in New York City's Harlem neighborhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Matthews describes his occupations in New York City
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Matthews recalls how he became involved in labor organizing
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Matthews remembers picketing the Transport Workers Union of America
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Matthews recalls Joe Louis' boxing matches in New York City
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Matthews remembers demonstrating with the Harlem Labor Union
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Matthews remembers serving in the segregated U.S. Army
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Matthews explains his decision to attend military school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Matthews recalls being among the first black liquor salesmen in New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Matthews recalls his work with the Liquor Salesmen's Union Local 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Matthews talks about marrying a white woman
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Matthews recalls the African American clientele of Frank's Restaurant
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Matthews recalls his initiatives against employment discrimination
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Matthews explains his organizing methods
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Matthews recalls Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.'s role in picket organizing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Matthews remembers forming the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Matthews recalls working on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.'s campaign
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Matthews recalls the American Federation of Labor's discrimination against black workers
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Matthews describes his NAACP involvement
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - John Matthews reflects upon his civil rights accomplishments
  • Tape: 3 Story: 12 - John Matthews talks about the Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Matthews remembers attending the March on Washington
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Matthews recalls the 156th Street Tenants and Friends Block Association
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Matthews recalls serving on the Francis Delafield Hospital Community Board
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Matthews talks about New York City's NAACP chapter
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Matthews reflects upon his achievements as a civil rights organizer
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Matthews talks about the Concerned Citizens Block Association
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Matthews describes New York City's 161st Street
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - John Matthews talks about stereotypes of African Americans
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - John Matthews describes his relationship with David N. Dinkins
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - John Matthews recalls advancements in civil rights during his lifetime
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - John Matthews describes his involvement in Prince Hall Masonry
  • Tape: 4 Story: 12 - John Matthews reflects upon his volunteerism
  • Tape: 4 Story: 13 - John Matthews recalls meeting Malcolm X and Fidel Castro
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Matthews talks about the New York City Fire Department and his current volunteer work
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Matthews describes the boating community of Freeport, New York
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Matthews describes how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Matthews reflects upon his life
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Matthews recalls famous members of New York City's Harlem community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Matthews describes New York City's African American political leaders
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - John Matthews describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - John Matthews talks about his contact with the mafia
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - John Matthews describes his love of music
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - John Matthews recalls his campaign for district leader in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - John Matthews recalls his awards and recognitions
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - John Matthews remembers Charles B. Rangel
  • Tape: 5 Story: 13 - John Matthews recalls playing alto saxophone in a local band
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Matthews recalls his presidency of the Bottle and Cork Club
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Matthews remembers Evelyn Cunningham
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Matthews reflects upon his life and the importance of history
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Matthews narrates his photographs