Abstract

During and after World War II, many African Americans migrated to urban areas in the North and West in search of economic opportunities. Although they faced widespread job discrimination, Black women struggled for employment in offices, factories, and stores. Black women in Milwaukee organized in an autonomous club for working women, La Circle, and also submitted formal complaints attesting to injustices. Although unsuccessful, their resistance had both local and national dimensions, especially when considered within the context of a surge in new scholarship that investigates the economic dimensions of mid-twentieth-century Black freedom struggles. These freedom fighters sowed the seeds for later activism by Black working women in the city, including union leader Nellie Wilson, who forced one of Milwaukee’s largest manufacturing companies, A. O. Smith, to eliminate gender discrimination from its hiring practices. These examples represent not only the persistence of Black women’s economic activism in postwar Milwaukee but also the nationwide emergence of such resistance during the civil rights era.

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