The TWU Honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

TWU Executive VP MatthewGuinan confers with MLK on the march from Selma to Montgomery
TWU Executive VP MatthewGuinan confers with MLK on the march from Selma to Montgomery

JANUARY 17 -- On this national holiday, TWU Local 100 honors the legacy of Dr. King and our supporting for him and his cause.

The TWU's commitment to equality for all people is embedded in our Consitution, which says in part: The object of this organization shall be to unite in this industrial union, regardless of race, creed, color or nationality all workers eligible for membership employed in, on or about all passenger and other transportation facilities, public utilities and allied industries in the United States, Canada, and possessions and territories of the United States.

IIn the late 1950’s Mike Quill began to take notice of a young black Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. who was eloquently speaking out for civil rights for black people in America. Quill had been an advocate for blacks in the transit industry since the founding of his union, and he saw a strong link between what he himself had been advocating and what this young minister was preaching in regard to civil rights for all people. The TWU began supporting King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference by sending union member delegations to events sponsored by King. And Quill himself signed on as a vice-chairman of King’s Youth March for Integrated Schools in 1959.

In early 1961, twenty-five TWU members, airline workers from Tennessee wrote to Quill objecting to the union’s support of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were mixed racial groups who traveled on buses from the North into the South. These rides had as their purpose to challenge the status quo which obligated black people to sit in the rear on buses in the South. The Tennessee unionists told Quill that he ought not to be interested in these social issues and dedicate himself more fully to just union matters. Quill responded to his Tennessee members’ letter in a fiery manner:

You have a lot to learn…. Wherever there are ignorant racist Klu Kluxers --- trying to destroy our country, it is the business of TWU. Wherever Americans do not have the right to vote, it comes under the heading of “things of the union” … When America is sick and endangered by the cancer of segregation, it is cause for concern by all organized labor --- and by each and every member of TWU.

A month after his letter of response to the Tennessee TWU contingent, Quill decided to invite Martin Luther King,  Jr. to address the upcoming TWU convention scheduled for April that year to dramatize the union’s commitment to civil rights.

You can read more about the TWU’s history with Dr. King here.