Unsung Heroine: Ora Lee Malone, Labor and Civil Rights Activist

The labor and trade union community lost one of it’s heroines recently. Ora Lee Malone passed away at age 93 on October 30, 2012. She spent the majority of her life fighting for the rights of freedom and equality for so many and her name should never be forgotten.

Mrs. Malone was born on December 24, 1918, in Brooksville, Mississippi, raised in Whistler, Alabama she experienced discrimination and segregation in the 1930s and 1940s. She endured the oppression and became involved in boycotts and other activities  including the Boswell Amendment. This amendment allowed registrars to disqualify African Americans to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned it.

In 1951 Mrs. Malone moved to St. Louis and found employment as a piece-worker in the California Manufacturing Company. The company had no union and the employees were not treated fairly. The plant employed mostly African Americans, and unions were not interested in organizing to protect their jobs. In 1956 she organized the company’s employees and they joined the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Mrs. Malone was elected the shop steward. She also became the union’s first African American business representative. Malone also was instrumental in organizing the Coalition of Labor Union for Women. She lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 1970 and for the Mills Bill, which regulated the flow of imports. She also helped organize the St. Louis branch of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Malone has affiliations with the St. Louis’ National Association for the Advancement Color People (N.A.A.C.P.); St. Louis Chapter of the Women’s Political Caucus; New Democratic Coalition; Legislative Chairman for The Christian Women’s Fellowship.

Ora Lee Malone also has had a profound interest in the well being of the South in the civil rights, human rights, and the women labor unions in South Africa.” Source

 

She often found herself many leagues ahead of the conventional practice – challenging status quo, pushing for civil rights and women’s rights, raising questions of equity and representation for the dispossessed, helping build organizations to empower the powerless, organizing the unorganized, picketing, negotiating, lobbying and working with others to free victims of oppression.” Source

 

Mrs. Malone, fighting until the very end.

 

“Ora was among the independent union women who organized the Coalition of Labor Union Women. The second organizing conference was held in St. Louis and drew 440 women. CLWU was founded in 1974 in Chicago at a conference attended by 3,000 women. Mrs. Malone said “many union men viewed CLWU as an antagonist despite its reasonable demands for day care facilities, female organizers to organize women in all industries and union affirmative action committees, etc”.Source

 “Internationally, she campaigned against apartheid in South Africa and for the release from prison of Nelson Mandela. Her efforts helped convince the city of St. Louis and the Missouri Legislature to call for the divestment of public funds from banks doing business with South Africa.” Source

Rest in Peace and Power, Sis. Ora Lee Malone. Your efforts to make the world a better place for workers, for Black people,  for women, and thus for everyone, has not gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.

We honor you.

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