Miamis Longshoremens Association: Blazing trails since 1936

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

Members reflect on the early days

Moses Hillman, 92, first began working on the docks in 1935 and was initially reluctant to really talk about his life as a longshoreman. His brother-in-law was the first president, Judge Henderson. But he did say, those were some really bad times for Black people. We were still living in a world where segregation was a way of life from the bathrooms to the drinking fountains. Jonas Turner, 85, was more outspoken about his experiences. I started on the docks in 1948 and I remember that even the drinking water itself was black and white, he said. There were a lot of us that went down to the docks looking for work. And let me tell you it was not easy work. Some brothers wouldnt even go down there to try. The loads we had to put on and off the ships were very heavy and that was before any real machines were being used. It was all about manpower. Some guys today, even with the new automation, dont want to do it. Its a dirty, strenuous job. And its dangerous work too. I came close a few times to being seriously injured. Some men were killed while working on the docks. But I had 10 kids to feed. I worked two jobs to make ends meet. As for me, I often went to work with a bowl of oatmeal that had to last me for the entire day. Willie James Adams, 67, first began his tenure on the docks in 1964. I was one of the first gantry crane drivers and I used to unload cargo off of the ships, he said. Was it dangerous? Yes! You had to always pay attention because you could easily lose a finger, a foot or your life. Fletcher C. Young, 65, says he first started working on the docks in 1966. The pay wasnt good at all but it would have been much worse without the union, he said. And then back in those days there was no such thing as a shift or regulations by OSHA. Sometimes I worked several days at at time we worked until the job was done. When I started the bathrooms and the drinking fountains were segregated. That wouldnt change until 1970! We often went to eat at the Royal Castle across from the docks on 11th and Biscayne. Blacks had to order their food on the side of the restaurant the whites got to go inside and sit down. Mosie Maddox, 80, started on the docks in 1962. The Longshoremen really helped to make life better for Black men who worked on those docks, he said. We got our pay raises because they were able to negotiate better contracts. Willie Hunter, 77, began working on the docks in 1959. It was a very different time for Blacks back then, he said. I had just gotten out of the Army and gotten married. I started at the very bottom and rose all the way to vice-president. As machinery started to be used we had to make sure we received adequate work and pay. That was the job of our officers. And they did a fine job too. Sometimes the owners tried to break the contracts, but at least we had something legal that was in writing for us to fall back on. James Finklin, 61, began on the docks in 1968. The men that assumed the lead in the Longshoremen were true leaders, he said. It was a beautiful thing to see them work on our behalf. And thats been the history of the Longshoremen since we were started in the 1930s. Young men today still know about us. Many come down to the docks looking for work. We have fed families and helped people find work.