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Miamis Longshoremens Association: Blazing trails since 1936

admin | 2/8/2012, 11:52 a.m.

Longshoreman reach 75 years of service and leadership

The ILA Local #1416 recently marked its 75th year of providing labor for the Port of Miami. After Hendersons tenure ended in 1965, he was succeeded by Cleveland Turner whose served as president until 1985. Clarence Pittman, Jr., a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and a second generation longshoreman, has served as the unions third president for the past 29 years. Pittman oversees an annual work force of 1,800 laborers whose activities include loading and unloading vessels and cruise ships from around the world in a quick and timely fashion. Besides Pittman, who heads the board of directors, Local #1416 is led by other directors including: Jakelin Chapman, vice-president; Nathaniel Maye, Jr., financial secretary; Ellis Canty, Sr., recording secretary and assistant business agent; Allen Davis, assistant business agent. Trustees include: Patrick Stewart, John W. Ragin, Sr., Stephen Hopkins, Jeffrey T. Brown and Fatih Shakir. The services of the Longshoremen were called upon in earnest in 1971 when the first passenger ships began to dock in Miami. Today Miami is known as the cruise capital of the world. We made this the cruise capital and are responsible for 4.5 million passengers a year and growing, Canty said. Jonas said he is saddened by the attitudes of todays youth. Blacks arent willing to fight for what they want anymore, he said. They [whites] take whatever they want from us. We have to be willing to demand what we want and then refuse to give up until we get it. Unions have thrived in places like Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh, but here in Miami they were highly unpopular. Said another way, establishing a union and maintaining it was not an easy task. But that didnt stop 10 Black men armed with foresight, drive and courage to invest $1.75 each to apply for a charter in the International Longshoremens Association [ILA] in 1936. Their names may have been forgotten but the legacy they left continues to shape the lives of Blacks for the better in the City of Miami.

Judge Henderson a leader determined to improve Blacks quality of life

Judge Henderson would serve as the first president for ILA # 1416 a position he would hold with distinction until 1965. Those who joined Henderson on that first day in 1936 included: Luther Gibson, Ed Davis, Jessie Thomas, James Purcey, John Thomas, Rhoddy Johnson, Alonso Allen, Arthur Small and Solomon Murray. The significance of their investment cannot be ignored as it was equivalent to five hours of work on the part of each man. In the 30s, dock workers in then Dade County were the lowest paid longshoremen in the U.S., receiving 35 cents an hour and nothing for overtime. From effective collective bargaining, Henderson and his men branched out into other areas, most notably civic and social engagement. This would be a first for Blacks in Miami. They fought the Ku Klux Klan who wanted to keep Blacks from registering to vote. By 1942, the Black community had begun to develop political interests and with the financial support of the Longshoremen, L.E. Thomas, a Black attorney and Stanley Sweeting, ran for Justice of the Peace and Constable, respectively. Thomas would later be appointed as a municipal judge something that was unheard of in the South. Henderson also worked to get more Blacks to the ballot box and was instrumental in adding more voters to the Democratic Party and away from the Republicans. In 1954, the ILA decided they wanted their own building for a meeting place. They dedicated their home office on May 8, 1955 without the financial assistance of any outside organization at a cost of $175,000.