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Frank Lumpkin

Born the third of 10 children on October 13, 1916, Frank Lumpkin is known for winning a 17-year fight against a steel mill, but he also participated in numerous other struggles for social justice. His family, sharecroppers in Washington, Georgia, moved to Florida to pick oranges when Lumpkin was six years old. At age 13, he lost two fingers when others dared him to touch a power line. Two years later, Lumpkin left school to pick fruit full-time.

As a young man, Lumpkin boxed well enough to fight professionally. He also worked in the orange groves and as a chauffeur. Following a brother who found better pay as a steelworker, Lumpkin moved to Buffalo, New York and got a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1941. Joining the merchant marines in 1943, he took part in a strike organized by the integrated National Maritime Union and his belief in communism took hold.

In 1949, Frank Lumpkin moved to Chicago and married Beatrice. The Wisconsin Steel Mill hired Lumpkin in 1950, and he quickly led an unsuccessful movement to bring a national union to his workplace. Lumpkin continued at the plant until 1980, when it closed down in a corrupt scheme to cheat its workers out of their last paychecks, pensions and benefits. The in-house union refused to fight, and Lumpkin organized the Save Our Jobs Committee. Under his leadership, the group picketed offices in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Fighting hard and long, Save Our Jobs finally succeeded in winning multiple court settlements that totaled $19 million. Although this represented a small monetary victory for the 2,500 workers the committee represented, Lumpkin succeeded in showing that united, people are strong.

Lumpkin has fought throughout his life for such causes as racial justice, living wages and peace. Mayor Harold Washington appointed him to task forces on hunger and dislocated workers. Frank and Beatrice Lumpkin have traveled internationally, visiting Eastern Europe and Russia behind the Iron Curtain as well as Africa and Latin America. Lumpkin remained a member of the Communist Party and the Save Our Jobs Committee, until his death on March 1, 2010.

Accession Number

A2002.082

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/6/2002

Last Name

Lumpkin

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Jones High School

First Name

Frank

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

LUM01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

N/A

Favorite Quote

Let's Get It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/23/1916

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Rice, Grits, Pork Chops, Ham

Death Date

3/1/2010

Short Description

Labor leader and steelworker Frank Lumpkin (1916 - 2010 ) is the organizer of the Save Our Jobs Committee. Under his leadership, the group protested for workers' rights in Illinois and Washington, D.C, and succeeded in winning multiple court settlements that totaled $19 million.

Employment

Bethlehem Steel

Wisconsin Steel Mill

Favorite Color

Dark Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Frank Lumpkin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Frank Lumpkin lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Frank Lumpkin describes his parents' occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Frank Lumpkin describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Frank Lumpkin talks about his childhood education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Frank Lumpkin describes his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Frank Lumpkin lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Frank Lumpkin talks about walking to school and his segregated childhood education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Frank Lumpkin describes his relationship with his parents, his father's work as a sharecropper, and his parents' value for education

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Frank Lumpkin shares memories about his schooling

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Frank Lumpkin talks about boxing after high school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Frank Lumpkin begins to talk about his boxing days

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Frank Lumpkin remembers his boxing days

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Frank Lumpkin describes sopping syrup with biscuits and the foods of his childhool

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Frank Lumpkin talks about the years he spent boxing to make money

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Frank Lumpkin recalls his life in Buffalo, New York as well as his boxing days

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Frank Lumpkin remembers his time in the U.S. Merchant Marine

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Frank Lumpkin describes losing several fingers as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Frank Lumpkin remembers moving from Buffalo, New York to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Frank Lumpkin recalls working at Wisconsin Steel

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Larry Crowe and Beatrice Lumpkin address Frank Lumpkin's limited memory of events

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Frank Lumpkin talks about Wisconsin Steel mill and how he organized working in the mill

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Frank Lumpkin talks about partnering with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and labor leader Edward Sadlowski and Wisconsin Steel mill

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Frank Lumpkin talks about the closing of Wisconsin Steel in 1980

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Frank Lumpkin recalls the Trumbull Park Race Riots in 1953

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Frank Lumpkin describes hiring a lawyer and organizing workers at the closing of Wisconsin Steel in 1980

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Frank Lumpkin describes the aftermath of the closing of Wisconsin Steel with details from Beatrice Lumpkin

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Frank Lumpkin talks about labor organizing and his biography, "Always Bring a Crowd!: The Story of Frank Lumpkin"

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Frank Lumpkin describes his struggle against Wisconsin Steel to other union fights

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

9$1

DATitle
Frank Lumpkin recalls working at Wisconsin Steel
Frank Lumpkin talks about partnering with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and labor leader Edward Sadlowski and Wisconsin Steel mill
Transcript
All right, and, so what and you, you--I know you started working for Wisconsin Steel, right, at a certain point?$$(No audible response, nodding yes).$$Now, is that when you start--did you start working at Wisconsin Steel as soon as you got here? How did you find out about it?$$Now, let's see, 'cause I worked there thirty-some years. You see actually, in the steel mill, they wasn't like the ones are now, you know, if you got around there you could get a chance to get in there and see how things done. But then, I learned how to chip defects, you know, smooth defects with steel. And, so, I went there for a job and they said, "Well, come over here and if you can chip, you can get a job." And, I was there for thirty-some years, but a lot of other things happened (laughter) during that time. 'Cause I lived on the South Side of Chicago [Illinois] where--and then we moved from there to Gary, Indiana, and I spent thirty years with the steel mills.$$Okay. And, I know you were involved with a strike, right, in the steel mill?$$Strangely enough, I was always involved in 'em and I did it on purpose. But, you see, the steel mill that I was in was International Harvester-owned. And, they would guarantee to get the raise that anybody else in the steel got like the other steel mills that was around, like the one in Gary and what have you. So, Wisconsin Steel was never a part of the steelworkers union. It was separate but they would guarantee you whatever steelworkers got retroactive. So, that was a break.$$Okay. So, did you ever join the union at Wisconsin Steel? It was a company union, she's [Beatrice Lumpkin] saying. What--$$Yeah, it was a company union. It was a company union that--that was you know, International Harvester that made them trucks and tractors and everything else. That's where the steel mill, that made that kind of steel products that many were able to do what they were doing. So, I got a chance to get in that mill and learn how to chip and then I applied for the job and got the job (laughter). It wasn't the--the steel mills wasn't as tight as they became later, you know. You could walk out there and you could walk up to the steel mill and you could walk in there and talk to the guy and find out what's going on.$$No security to stop you?$$Naw, they stop you right there.$$So, you could just walk on in there and talk? Okay. All right, so, did you like working in the steel mill? Was it okay? Was the--was management fair? Did they do--did they treat you all right?$$According to who the management was, you know, usually it was fair. It was fair, usually.$$Okay. So--$$What do you mean, they wasn't fair?$$So, you had a good time working at Wisconsin Steel?$$Huh?$$You had a good time, pleasant time there?$$(Nodding head). Sixteen hours, one time I worked there twenty-one hours a day and they come out and stopped me. But, I need the money, and it wasn't hard to get there, you know. You chip or you do what you had to do until they resupplied and you just work till it get done. You'd do what your job was.$$Okay.$$And, you got paid a fair wage for that?$$I think so.$$You had good medical coverage?$$So far, yeah.$$Okay.$All right. Mr. Lumpkin, can you tell me about what happened when Wisconsin Steel closed [in 1980]?$$We had some marches. I know at that time, Harold Washington was the mayor of the City [of Chicago]. And, Ed Sadlowski [Edward Sadlowski] who was a labor leader in the South Side, father knew about it and I talked with little Ed Sadlowski. And, so, I go to City Hall to talk to Mayor Washington, no chance 'till I started down, and I met little Sadlowski. And, he went right up the way and then he got me to talk, sit down and talked with Harold Washington who came out to a meeting one night at the union hall, and, you know, when he was mayor. And we worked there--worked together hand and hand to what you got doing there. But, in organizing working with many people--you know, you gotta talk to the people and figure out what the best way to get things done there and the struggle in which we won out on the whole thing. But, it's a lot of other things, you have to understand, that when I went in the steel mill, it was much different than the time I came out because we had a lot of improvements that went on in the mill. I went in there to chipper that used the hammer to dig the--and chisel to cut the defects out. And, while I was still there, they put in grinders. Big grinders that would take the steel and would grind it out in a tenth of the time it take a guy to get with a chisel and an air hammer to cut it out. So, it was an improvement that was made in, within the mill and what have you. The idea of getting the company to increase the pay of the guys who was working there. So, he was able to call a meeting and you were able to slow down. Or, you was able to do what was necessary to force the company to sit down and let's talk about real business and that everybody there got a right to make a living. And, so, things like that they, you know, was the things that I liked about working in the mill. You could talk. You call five guys together and say, "Let's talk." And, then the foreman, when the steel goes down, the foreman would have to do what he was gonna do or either he had to listen to what the workers was fighting about. And, that was my idea of what was going on in that mill and it wasn't long for--I think I had thirty years in that mill. But, I knew the guys. I did my job and I never, you know, done something that would force more work on the guy that was working next to me or with me in that plant.