Southerners for Economic Justice Records, 1977-2001.

Creator: Southerners for Economic Justice.
Collection number: 5320
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Abstract: Southerners for Economic Justice (SEJ) was founded in 1976 during a successful campaign to help J. P. Stevens textile workers unionize. Since then, SEJ has focused on empowering the unemployed and working poor to develop community-based strategies to solve social problems associated with economic crisis. Records, 1977-2001, of Southerners for Economic Justice document the organization under the leadership of its first three directors: James Sessions, Leah Wise, and Cynthia D. Brown. Administrative records document the everyday operations and strategic planning of SEJ, as well as the organizational culture of a non-profit organization. Project and subject files document programmatic work, grassroots organizing, and related interests of the organization, especially unemployment due to plant closings, racist violence, environmental racism, shrinking union membership, contingent work, workplace health and safety reform, leadership training for minority women and youth, and literacy. Subject files also show collaboration with churches and like-minded organizations and grassroots activists at local, state, regional, national, and international levels to build and participate in support networks and coalition groups, including the Southeast Regional Economic Justice Network, among many others. Highlights of SEJ’s documented activist work include the J. P. Stevens campaign; the Schlage Lock campaign; the workers’ bill of rights for city employees of Durham, N.C.; Betrayal of Trust: Stories of Working North Carolinians, a report published in 1989 that documents workplace discrimination and wrongful firing of workers; the Hamlet, N.C., coalition for workplace safety reform; the Working Women’s Organizing Project; Youth for Social Change; and Voices of Experience, a collaborative group that advised and advocated for people experiencing welfare reform. Other materials include an extensive collection of economic and social justice newsletters and photographs, chiefly documenting SEJ meetings and events, but also showing Durham, N.C., scenes.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: SEJ’s chief constituency during the 1980s was dislocated and marginalized workers, often low income or unemployed and injured women of color. Development of leadership and organizational skills in African American youth became a second focus later in the decade. Of note are the Project files (in Series 3.2). Of particular note in Series 3 (Records) are Box 20 – 23 [“Betrayal of Trust”], which contains documentation related to dislocated workers; Box 23 [“Black Workers for Justice” and “Center for Democratic Renewal”]. There is documentation on youth groups as well [Box 78]. Box 36 – 38 contains records on plant closings on how workers, including African Americans, were affected. Box 38 – 40 [“Racism and Violence”] contains information on numerous groups and topics, including the Ku Klux Klan killings in Greensboro.