Addie L. Wyatt Biography
Labor leader, civil rights pioneer, pastor
The first female board member of the United Packinghouse Food and Alliance Workers Union, Addie L. Wyatt was elected vice president of Local 56 in 1953. During her 30-year career as a labor leader Wyatt fought for equality as a campaigner for women's rights in the workplace and as an active protester alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1960s. She served as a member of President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women and in 1976 became the first black woman labor leader of an international union when she was elected international vice president of the newly merged United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. A former Time magazine woman of the year (1975), Wyatt was inducted to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2005.
Addie L. Wyatt was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on March 28, 1924, the oldest of eight children. Her parents, Ambrose and Maggie Nolan Cameron, moved the family to Chicago while Wyatt was still a child. She married Claude S. Wyatt Jr. on May 12, 1940, and began working in the Chicago meat packing industry in 1941 after failing to secure a white collar, but lower paid, typist's job. Wyatt's two sons, Renaldo Wyatt and Claude S. Wyatt III, were born in this period. She also became responsible for raising her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died and her father was unable to look after them because of illness.
Wyatt worked as a meat packer between 1941 and 1954, combining this with looking after the children, organizing the Wyatt Choral Ensemble (founded 1944) with her husband, and her increasing involvement with the labor union, United Packinghouse and Food and Alliance Workers Union. By the early 1950s she was a well-known activist and in 1953 was elected vice president of her branch, Local 56, becoming the first black woman to hold senior office in an American labor union. In 1955 Wyatt was ordained into the Church of God where her husband was already a minister.
The couple also became involved with the ministry and civil rights campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Wyatt became labor adviser to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She was a leading civil rights campaigner in Chicago during the 1960s, serving on the Action Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement and organizing protests. The Wyatts also worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson in helping to found Operation Breadbasket, which distributed food to underprivileged people in 12 American cities, in 1962. Wyatt later became involved in its successor, P.U.S.H. (People United to Serve Humanity).
The power and influence of the United Packinghouse Workers' union declined in the 1960s as the Chicago meatpacking industry collapsed. Known as an inspirational speaker, Wyatt was able to galvanize union members and activists in difficult times and by the 1970s she was a major figure in the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the amalgamated union that emerged from the period of crisis. In 1974 she helped found the Coalition of Labor Union Women and in 1976 she became international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, making her the first African-American woman to lead an international union. She served in this position until 1984 when she retired to become a full-time pastor in the church she and her husband helped found, the Mount Vernon Church of God, Chicago.
Wyatt's major achievement as a union activist was to protect and enhance the rights of women in the workplace. She was the first chair of the National Women's Committee of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), which honored her by naming an award after her, the Addie L. Wyatt Woman of the Year Award. Wyatt was appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt as a committee member on the Labor Legislation Committee of the Commission on the Status of Women, which reported in 1963. She was appointed by President Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. Wyatt was named one of Time's Women of the Year in 1975 and by the Ladies' Home Journal in 1977. Ebony judged her one of the 100 most influential black Americans between 1980 and 1984. On August 26, 2005, her footprints were added to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, in acknowledgment of her work as an activist, campaigner, and leader.
Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1986, p. 6; August 29, 2005, p. 5.
Jet, March 13, 2000, p. 34.
"Addie L. Wyatt," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (December 12, 2005).
"Rev. Addie Wyatt," The History Makers, www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=276&category=civicMakers (December 12, 2005).
"CBTU Awards," Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, www.cbtu.org/2003website/awards/grasshopper.html (December 12, 2005).