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William Lucy

William Lucy is one of the most prominent labor leaders in recent U.S. history. He has been secretary-treasurer of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for the past thirty-five years, and was reelected in July 2008 to another 4-year term. As secretary-treasurer, Lucy holds the second highest ranking position within AFSCME, making him the highest ranking African American in the labor movement.

William Lucy was born on November 26, 1933 in Memphis, Tennessee. Lucy grew up in Richmond, California where his parents, Susie and Joseph Lucy, moved when he was a young boy. He studied civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1950s. Lucy then took a position as an assistant materials and research engineer for Contra Costa County, California. It was in this position that he first got involved in labor organizing. Lucy held that position for thirteen years until 1966. He became a member of AFSCME Local 1675 in 1956 at the age of twenty-three and then was elected its president in 1965 at the age of thirty-two. In 1966, Lucy left his job in civil engineering at Contra Costa County to work full-time for AFSCME’s national office in Washington, D.C., as the associate director of the legislation and community affairs departments.

During the 1960s, AFSCME chapters around the country organized marches and strikes to secure better wages and working conditions for its members. These actions were often met with a violent police response. During this period, many AFSCME members and leaders were beaten, tear-gassed, and jailed. Lucy was jailed by police several times in his capacity as union leader and activist. In 1968, at the age of thirty-five, Lucy worked on the historic Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. He coined the famous slogan, “I Am A Man!” that became the rallying call for the Memphis strikers. In the tumultuous aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination during the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, Lucy helped maintain the labor-civil rights-community coalition that sealed the workers’ eventual victory and became the model used throughout the nation.

In 1972, Lucy co-founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) to ensure African Americans a voice in labor. In 1984, Lucy joined the Free South Africa Movement, a grassroots campaign that sparked widespread opposition to apartheid in South Africa. In 1994, Lucy became the president of Public Services International (PSI), the world’s largest union federation. Lucy was the first African American to hold this position, which coordinates the efforts of ten million members from over 100 nations. Ebony magazine frequently cites Lucy as one of “The 100 most Influential Black Americans.” Lucy has two children, Benita Marsh and Phyllis Manuel.

Accession Number

A2008.001

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/29/2008 |and| 5/1/2012

Last Name

Lucy

Maker Category
Schools

LaRose Elementary School

Roosevelt Junior High School

El Cerrito High School

University of California, Berkeley

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Memphis

HM ID

LUC05

Favorite Season

Thanksgiving

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

It Is Better To Be Effective Than Right.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/26/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens (Collard), Peas (Black-Eyed)

Short Description

Civil rights activist, labor activist, and union leader William Lucy (1933 - ) was the first African American president of Public Services International. He co-founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and served as the secretary-treasurer of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Employment

Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Contra Costa County Public Works Department

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William Lucy's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William Lucy lists his favorites, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William Lucy describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William Lucy describes his early school experiences in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William Lucy remembers LeMoyne Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William Lucy describes his community on Neptune Street in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William Lucy remembers segregation in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - William Lucy talks about his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - William Lucy describes his school experiences in Richmond, California

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - William Lucy remembers his community in Richmond, California

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - William Lucy recalls travelling by train to Richmond, California

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William Lucy remembers travelling on a segregated train to Richmond, California

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes Richmond, California

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers his junior high school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William Lucy recalls his high school design project

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William Lucy remembers the industrial businesses in Richmond, California

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes El Cerrito High School in El Cerrito, California

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William Lucy talks about his work at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William Lucy recalls joining the Contra Costa County Public Works Department

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - William Lucy describes his engineering courses at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - William Lucy remembers the impact of the unions in Contra Costa County, California

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - William Lucy describes his work in the Contra Costa County Public Works Department, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - William Lucy recalls the unionization of the Contra Costa County Employees Association, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls the unionization of the Contra Costa County Employees Association, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes the early years of AFSCME Local 1675

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers civil rights leader James Farmer

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William Lucy talks about the labor movement in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William Lucy recalls issues addressed by AFSCME Local 1675

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William Lucy talks about the role of communism in the labor movement

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William Lucy recalls AFSCME Local 1675's opposition to the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William Lucy talks about his transition from local to national union leadership

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - William Lucy describes his family

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William Lucy describes his first impression of Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William Lucy talks about the AFSCME's Department of Legislation and Community Affairs

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers representing Panama Canal Company employees, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William Lucy remembers representing Panama Canal Zone employees, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William Lucy recalls the restructuring of city government in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - William Lucy remembers meeting with Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - William Lucy recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - William Lucy describes the labor movement slogan, "I Am a Man"

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes the support for the labor movement in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike march

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William Lucy recalls the Memphis Police Department's involvement in the strike

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William Lucy recalls the mobilization of Memphis' black community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William Lucy recalls the mobilization of Memphis' black community, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - William Lucy remembers Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, I've Been to the Mountaintop

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - William Lucy recalls the Memphis City Council's involvement in the strike

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - William Lucy remembers the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - William Lucy remembers the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls strategizing after Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William Lucy remembers organizing the workers' rights march in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes the public support for the labor movement

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - William Lucy remembers Coretta Scott King's response to her husband's death

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - William Lucy describes the conclusion of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - William Lucy recalls the impact of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - William Lucy reflects upon the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - William Lucy describes the founding of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - William Lucy describes the founding of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - William Lucy recalls becoming secretary-treasurer of the AFSCME

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of William Lucy's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - William Lucy lists his favorites, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes his mother's family history

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - William Lucy talks about his mother's education and employment

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - William Lucy describes his father's family history

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - William Lucy recalls his father's education and employment

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - William Lucy talks about his parents' marriage

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - William Lucy describes his mother's restaurant in Thomasville, Alabama

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - William Lucy recalls his family's move from Tennessee to California

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - William Lucy describes his likeness to his father

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - William Lucy describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - William Lucy remembers the World War II manufacturing industry in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - William Lucy lists his elementary schools

Tape: 7 Story: 14 - William Lucy describes his childhood activities

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - William Lucy describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - William Lucy remembers the World War II effort in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - William Lucy talks about post-World War II work opportunities for laborers

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - William Lucy describes the Richmond Unified School District

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - William Lucy remembers his parents' employment in California

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes his early employment prospects

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - William Lucy remembers his junior high school teachers

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - William Lucy talks about black athletes from the San Francisco Bay Area

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - William Lucy recalls the music scene of the San Francisco Bay Area

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - William Lucy describes his post high school activities

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - William Lucy remembers Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond, California

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls his role at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes his position in the Contra Costa County Public Works Department

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers the founding of AFSCME Local 1675

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - William Lucy talks about the California civil service system

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - William Lucy recalls the early agendas of AFSCME Local 1675

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes the argument for collective union bargaining

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - William Lucy talks about the role of a union's negotiation committee

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - William Lucy describes his experience as spokesman of the negotiation committee

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - William Lucy recalls AFSCME's civil rights concerns

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - William Lucy remembers the March on Washington

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - William Lucy talks about collective bargaining in the public sector

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes his transition from local to national union work

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - William Lucy talks about the discrepancies between public and private sectors

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - William Lucy recalls the catalyst to the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - William Lucy talks about the preconditions for a labor strike

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - William Lucy recalls organizing the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - William Lucy remembers Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls the concerns of the Memphis sanitation workers

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes the churches involved in the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers the Memphis City Council's African American members

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - William Lucy remembers role of the Memphis Police Department during the strike

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - William Lucy remembers Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s involvement in the strike, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes the civil rights group, the Invaders

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - William Lucy recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s involvement in the strike, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - William Lucy recalls the introduction of violence to the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - William Lucy talks about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls the settlement of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - William Lucy recalls the settlement of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes the creation of the labor movement slogan, 'I Am a Man'

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - William Lucy recalls the impact of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - William Lucy talks about Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb's opposition to strikers

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - William Lucy recalls his election as secretary-treasurer of the AFSCME

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - William Lucy describes the first meeting of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - William Lucy talks about the founding members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - William Lucy describes the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers the economic boycott of South Africa

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - William Lucy describes the Free South Africa Movement, pt. 1

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - William Lucy describes the Free South Africa Movement, pt. 2

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - William Lucy remembers the end of apartheid in South Africa

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - William Lucy describes Nelson Mandela

Tape: 14 Story: 1 - William Lucy describes Public Services International

Tape: 14 Story: 2 - William Lucy recalls becoming president of Public Services International

Tape: 14 Story: 3 - William Lucy remembers joining the AFL-CIO Executive Council

Tape: 14 Story: 4 - William Lucy describes the role of the AFL-CIO Executive Council

Tape: 14 Story: 5 - William Lucy talks about his criticism of the Iraq War

Tape: 14 Story: 6 - William Lucy describes the circumstances of his retirement

Tape: 14 Story: 7 - William Lucy talks about the opposition to public sector unions, pt. 1

Tape: 14 Story: 8 - William Lucy talks about the opposition to public sector unions, pt. 2

Tape: 15 Story: 1 - William Lucy recalls the opposition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposed budget reform

Tape: 15 Story: 2 - William Lucy talks about nationwide budget concerns

Tape: 15 Story: 3 - William Lucy describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 15 Story: 4 - William Lucy describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 15 Story: 5 - William Lucy reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 15 Story: 6 - William Lucy talks about his children's careers

Tape: 15 Story: 7 - William Lucy describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 15 Story: 8 - William Lucy talks about the legacy of racism in formerly colonized countries

Tape: 16 Story: 1 - William Lucy narrates his photographs

DASession

2$2

DATape

9$12

DAStory

3$3

DATitle
William Lucy remembers the founding of AFSCME Local 1675
William Lucy describes the creation of the labor movement slogan, 'I Am a Man'
Transcript
Was there any union activity involved in this job at all?$$Well, it wasn't what you'd call union activity at that time. We belonged to an association, the county employees association [Contra Costa County Employees Association], which was a mixture of all employees who worked for the county. We had, you know, public works, engineering, social workers, hospital workers; all of the various classifications that were employed by the county were a part of this in one--some numbers. But we began to find out later on that the system itself was not necessarily fair. And, and what struck me and I think others was the fact that--it's a civil service system, in some places, some types of merit system mixtures. But the, the unfairness of it was that civil service systems, which are responsible for supplying the names of people who have passed some examination and qualified for a position; that's advertised. And then in my estimation, and I think others too, you know, the system had become involved and decided on what kind of discipline you would get for assumed violation of some process, or decide what it--what level of salary you would get, which was not their, their original function, or would decide how many vacation days you got. You know, my view was that some of the people ought to sit down across a table and talk about it, but we didn't have collective bargaining in those days or any other thing that gave workers a voice in this process. And even if we had had it, the association was not necessarily committed to the idea that workers had the right to talk about these things. And when the civil service systems were designed, they were really designed to protect workers from, you know, political abuse. Well, they had gone far beyond that, and now they were judge and jury. And there are other folks felt the same way, that, that we were entitled to a voice in this process. And so a, a debate started in the association itself, you know, what do we want to be? And ultimately, it was put to a vote of all of the members to decide whether you want to continue to be an association or whether you want to really be a union. I mean we really--lived in a very heavily unionized county, and we thought that our lot would be better off if we were a union as opposed to an independent association. And we enjoyed, we enjoyed both because we came to Contra Costa County Employees Association, Local 1675 [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1675]. So, at the end of a year's period, our membership decided we want to be a union, enjoy the privileges of pursuing collective bargaining, and at the same time, be able to present workers' issues and cases before the civil service employees commission. And we did, we, we, we did that, and I became involved in that, in that movement.$$Okay, okay. So you really just become involved from the inside out because of necessity, you know.$$Right.$$And--$$Right.$$All right. So, now--$$Well, even, even more, just that I mean I, I had, at a, at a point in this, in this process became responsible for the administrative affairs of our materials and testing laboratory [of the Contra Costa County Public Works Department], so I had staff employees who reported to me. And I was a part of this other process, determine what would happen to them. Well, this seemed a little, little odd to me because I considered myself a worker just like them. And to be told, here is what we're gonna do to them, (laughter) didn't quite strike me as, as right, so I, I really--I got heavily engaged in trying to form a strong union and to have a place where, you know, employees had a voice.$You are credited with coming up with one of the strategic slogans of the late '60s [1960s] and stuff the, the "I Am a Man." The, the garbage workers [of the Memphis Public Works Division] carried those signs, wore the placards, and it's, it has a historical--now I know you're credited with coming up with it, but I think you even agree it has a historical origin. And tell, tell us about how you, how you did that.$$Well, you know, the, that--somewhere during the early days of the strike [Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike], the mayor [Henry Loeb] had made some comment that, that, you know, about the workers and so and so forth. And Jim Lawson [James Lawson] at a community meeting you know, one night says--and there's a video out there says that when the mayor or some person tells you what you're gonna do, and you must do it, that's not treating you like a man; that's treating you like a child, or something like that. And the essence of racism is when you treat a man if he's not a ma- as if he's not a man. And we didn't--I didn't think a whole lot of it, but we knew that we had to have something to glue this thing together. So this white pastor I was telling you about, Malcolm Blackburn, he and I were tasked with trying to find a slogan that would do that. So we spent one evening at the Rivermont Hotel [Memphis, Tennessee] playing with words to see as few a number of words that we could find that would have glue that everybody could relate to as to why they are doing what they're doing. And finally we came up with four words. And the reason we, we didn't want a lot of words because we, we couldn't pay to get a lot of signs printed (laughter), and the church had committed a print and a sign for us if we get it worked out. So we came up with that, those four words, "I Am a Man." And while it means different things I'm sure to different people, to this whole effort, it, it meant that I'm--I want--I'm standing up for my rights; I will speak out; I am speaking back to someone who I have historically held fear of; and I'm, I'm confronting the system. And I'm, I'm not asking for a whole lot, just to be treated with respect and dignity. And we didn't have any idea that this thing would hit like it hit. And like you say, I mean the--everybody wanted a sign. I mean that was their statement. That was their challenge to the system to treat them right, to treat them with fairness. And to this day, it has, it has hung on. I mean I'd, I'd like to credit one of the strikers with coming up with it, I mean, you know, but after about two and a half, maybe three hours of fiddling around, that's what we came up with. And we took it over to the, the A.M.E. church [Clayborn Temple A.M.E. Church, Memphis, Tennessee], and they, they printed the first batch of signs for it (laughter). And it sent a statement to the broad community, you know. And, and it was, it was their sort of fight back statement, you know, to all of the problems they've ever had for the all the years they'd ever lived there, worked there, or grew up in the South. Then as someone was saying, and I think it's, there's a lot of truth, that in the South, you could go from boy to uncle to grandpa without ever passing the position of man. And man, you know, but these guys I mean, (makes sound) that was it. We didn't have to say nothing else. I mean their commitment to this thing was locked in.