Congratulations to William Lucy
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, the Eugene V. Debs Award will be presented to distinguished labor rights and civil rights leader William “Bill” Lucy. Clayola Brown, President of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, will present the Award. The event will begin at 6:00PM with a cocktail hour followed by dinner and the Award presentation at 7:00PM. The location will be the Sycamore Banquet Facility on the campus of Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana.
Fifty years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, Bill Lucy, then the director of legislative and community affairs for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), was a key leader of the sanitation workers striking for safe, healthy working conditions and higher wages. In coordination with the Reverend Martin Luther King,, Jr., and the Poor People’s Campaign, the union strikers exposed the de facto segregation of job opportunities in the South in 1968 and confirmed the strength and power to be gained from combining their fight with the domestic civil rights movement and the global struggle to end the war in Viet Nam. In the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. King, Bill helped to lead the strike to a successful resolution.
After growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the 1950’s Bill worked as a materials and research engineer for Contra Costa County and was active in AFSCME Local 1675, becoming its President in 1965. The next year he went to Washington, D.C., to join the staff of the International Union. The events in Memphis galvanized Bill’s commitment to national and international political action utilizing the trade union movement as a platform to accomplish fundamental change.
In 1972, Bill was elected Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME, a position that he held until his retirement in 2010. 1972 was the year that George Meany, then President of the AFL-CIO, announced that the Federation would be “neutral” in the forthcoming election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. Many union leaders and members found that to be disgraceful and one outcome was that Bill and a grouping of fellow high ranking activists founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and he became its first President. The organization exposed the inherent racism in much of the union movement of that time, fought segregation in the workplace and formed coalitions with other progressive organizations. CBTU continues to be a critical component in 2018 as workers and their unions face unprecedented attacks by a hostile administration and its Congressional lackeys. Bill also co-founded the Free South Africa Movement, a grass roots organization that developed support in the United Stated for the overthrow of apartheid.
The legacies of Gene Debs and Bill Lucy are closely intertwined. One hundred years after Gene’s speech in Canton, Ohio, and fifty years after Bill’s courageous leadership in Memphis, we must now continue to accelerate the achievement of freedom and justice for all.
Labor History Tour
We are once again offering a Labor History Tour of Terre Haute the afternoon of the banquet Saturday, October 20th, from 10am until 12 noon, led by Debs Foundation board member Timothy Kelley.
Q&A Session with Bill Lucy and Screening of documentary At the River I Stand
Later that same afternoon, the Eugene V. Debs Foundation and the ISU History Department will host a question and answer session with this year’s award winner Bill Lucy following the screening of the documentary feature, At the River I Stand, which tells the story of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, including details of involvement by Martin Luther King, Bill Lucy, T. O. Jones, and O. Z. Evers.
The screening and Q&A will be at the ISU Library Events Center on the first floor of Cunningham Memorial Library at 2pm, Saturday October 20th. The session is open to the public.
Musical Performance by the Shelby Bottom Duo
This fall, we are proud to continue hosting the best in labor music, the Shelby Bottom Duo, which continues the tradition of the Shelby Bottom String Band (also formed by August and Levin): entertaining, irreverent social commentary, humanity, and humor. They also delight listeners with some obscure, quirky songs that deserve a wider audience.
Michael August is a songwriter and was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Shelby Bottom String Band for 7 years. He has played as a solo fingerstyle guitar act in bars & coffeehouses. He has hosted an acoustic music radio show on WRFN for eleven years.
Nell Levin has played with Americana artist Tom Roznowski, Buffalo Gals, Cadillac Cowgirls, Goldrush and bluegrass pioneer Earl Taylor. She was voted Most Promising Female Songwriter by Tennessee Songwriters Association. She was the primary songwriter, fiddler and back-up vocalist for Shelby Bottom String Band for 7 years.