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Revels Cayton, born in Seattle, Washington, was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton, and the grandson of U.S. Senator Hiram Revels. As a highly respected labor leader, he served as Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco District Council of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific and, later, the business agent for the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union.
Revels Cayton fought for civil rights throughout his life. In 1940 he joined Paul Robeson and five others in filing a discrimination suit against a San Francisco restaurant that refused to serve the group. He was the executive secretary of the National Negro Congress when, in 1946, it petitioned the United Nations Director-General to submit the "denial of constitutional rights to 13,000,000 U.S. Negroes to the international tribunal." Cayton also sent President Truman a telegram notifying him of the demand for "full freedom and absolute equality" for black Americans.
Cayton’s activities caught the attention of J. Edgar Hoover as early as 1943. A report, which included surveillance information on Seattle’s black population, was presented to the FBI director with the following notation: "At one time Revels Cayton, Negro Communist Party Member, presently in a functionary position in the Los Angeles Party setup, was an organizer in the Northwest. “Revels Cayton served as a member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, as deputy director of the San Francisco Housing Authority and as deputy mayor for social programs. He retired from public service in 1987. Revels Cayton died on Saturday, November 4, 1995, in San Francisco.(5)
Sources:Chicago Defender, November, 23, 1940, December 22, 1945; June 8, 1946; Robert A. Hill, The FBI’s Racon: Racial Conditions in the United States during World War II (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995); San Francisco Examiner, November 7, 1995
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Coleman Young arrived in Detroit with his family when he was five. The Colemans settled in the working class neighborhood of Black Bottom (East Detroit), where his father operated a dry cleaning business and his mother was a schoolteacher. Early in his life Coleman suffered various forms of racial discrimination from denial of scholarships to a racially motivated firing at an automobile plant.
During the Second World War, Coleman was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, serving as a bombardier-navigator, but he was discharged after demanding service at an all-white officers club in Indiana. After the war he returned to Detroit, where he worked as a union organizer, and campaigned for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948. His activism with the leftist Progressive Party drew the hostility of mainstream labor leaders like UAW president Walter Reuther. Young lost his union position and later gave defiant testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Blacklisted by the labor establishment, he went through intense personal difficulties, and was married and divorced twice.
During the 1960s Coleman began a climb up the ranks of the local Democratic Party, and in 1973 when he was elected Mayor of Detroit; he became the first African American to head a major U.S. city. Coleman’s efforts to reform the police department angered white conservatives while his refusal to support court-ordered busing angered mainstream liberals. His twenty-year tenure as mayor saw the construction of the riverfront Renaissance Center, and other projects which created hundreds of jobs for African Americans. His blunt, sometimes profane, style made him a target for the media, with whom he often sparred. His companion for most of his life, after his two divorces, once said of him, “The city is Coleman Young’s girlfriend, not Joyce Garrett.” Coleman Young died in 1997.
Sources:Wilbur C. Rich, Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1998); The Coleman Young Foundation, www.cayf.org/bio_cay.htm ; A Life Remembered, www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/elephant/young.htm , Mayor Coleman Young Tribute, www.metrotimes.com/archives/young/intro.html
Leaders of the Labor Movement Continue
Marcus Garvey led the first mass black movement of the 20th century. Through the establishment of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the Garvey Movement inspired African people to dream again, constantly reminding them that they had once been kings and queens and rulers of great nations, and would again be rulers of themselves and Africa.