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Southern Labor Archives: Voices of Labor Oral History Project: W

Interviews with labor leaders from Georgia and across the South.

Walker, Mary Lynn

Mary Lynn Walker

Interviewed by: Lauren Kata, January 27, 2005
Transcript info: 106 pages; tape and digital copy also available
Accession No: L2005-04

Biographical Information:

Mary Lynn Walker was born on June 2, 1937 in Brooks, Fayette County, Georgia into a large, farming family of fifteen children.  After marriage, Walker graduated from Smith-Hughes Vocational School in Fayette County in 1955.  She began her work with the labor movement while employed at the Atlanta Army Depot, becoming very active in the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) in 1968.  During her stint with the AFGE, Walker held executive positions never before realized by a woman including the 14th District National Representative, the Director of Organizing, and the National Vice President for the 5th District.  Walker has received numerous awards for her work with unions including the Labor Leader of the Year 2001 and for the work she did while being a magistrate for the Supreme Court in Virginia from 1985-1991.


Walker discusses her background—growing up in a large family at the end of the Depression, living on a farm and the responsibilities handed to the her as the eldest daughter, and her educational opportunities as a woman.  On gender barriers that she had to break in order to become a key player within different unions, Walker explains how she proved “a woman was capable of doing the job.”  She also talks about her work for AFGE during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with particular attention given to some of the executive orders and contracts negotiated under Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter.  Walker addresses the changing regional attitude towards labor unions as well as outsourcing and other challenges facing the labor movement today.

Union Represented: American Federation of Government Employees

Walker, James "Jimmy"

James "Jimmy" Walker

Interviewed by: Phil LaPorte, November 22, 2005
Transcript info: 59 pages
Accession No: L2005-26

Biographical Information:
Born in Dahlonega, Georgia, Jimmy Walker is the son of north Georgia farmers.  In 1945, at age (?), Walker made his way to Atlanta to find work.  Joining the U.S. Maritime Service, he was sent to St. Petersburg, Florida for training and, upon being assigned to the U.S. Army Transportation Service, was sent to San Francisco.  In 1958, Walker returned to Atlanta and found a job at the Carling Brewery, becoming a member of the International Union of Firemen and Oilers, Local 288.  Quickly rising to the position of shop steward, Walker later served on the negotiating committee until he was elected business agent of Local 288 in 1971.  Walker was appointed as Vice President of the International Union of Firemen and Oilers in 1977 and as President in 1985.  In 1998, the year of his retirement, Walker was honored as President Emeritus of the Service Employees International Union-National Conference of Firemen and Oilers.


Walker briefly discusses his background before talking about the beginning of his working life in some detail.  Speaking about his time in the U.S. Maritime Service and in the U.S. Army Transportation Service, Walker recalls having seen Japan, Okinawa, and Europe; he was at Inchon, Korea during McArthur’s invasion in September 1950 as well.  During his time in the Army, says Walker, he trained as an engineer, which helped him secure a position as senior operating engineer at Carling Brewery in Hapeville, Georgia.  Walker immediately joined the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers, which represented the engineering department at Carling.  After briefly discussing his 13 years as shop steward and negotiating committee member at Carling, Walker talks about his election to the position of business agent for Local 288.  Walker says that as business agent he concentrated on organizing new members in Florida and Tennessee as well as preserving and improving labor contracts in Georgia.  He admits that his success as a negotiator and organizer helped his ascent to Vice President as well as President of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers.  Walker goes on to discuss his involvement with the Democratic National Convention meeting in Atlanta in 1988.  He says that along with the pressure that local clergy and civic leaders exerted, his negotiations with the management of the Hilton Hotel concerning a labor contract helped prevent a potentially disastrous situation in which the California and Louisiana delegations would have declined to attend the convention.  Perhaps his most important contribution to the union, he opines, was his role in negotiating the merger of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers with the Service Employees International Union in 1994.

Union Represented: International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers; Service Employee International Union - National Council of Firemen and Oilers

Watkins, Barron

Barron Watkins

Interviewed by: Chris Lutz; July 5, 1995
Transcript info: 26 pages (2 tapes, 60 minutes each)
Accession No: L1995-12.22

Biographical Information:
Barron Watkins was born on October 6, 1923 in Cherokee County, Georgia.  During the course of his career he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders (IBB) union, and later the International Printing Pressman and Assistants Union (IPPAU).  In the mid-1980s the Pressman’s Union merged with the Graphics Communication International Union (GCIU), after which Watkins continued to be a member.   His career in these unions included his election as President of IPPAU Local 527 in 1957, Secretary-Treasurer-Business Agent of the Local from 1959 to 1965, and Business Agent of the District Council.

Watkins discusses some of his personal background and then jumps into the topic of employers creating retirement programs after World War II.  He says his experience in the labor movement began in 1942 when he joined the Bookbinders Union.  By 1951 the workers of Follett Paper switched allegiance and became members of the Pressman’s Union.  He talks about working for the Pressman’s International in the 1970s.  Watkins believes the technological changes in the printing industry mean a loss of craftsmanship. On the need for consolidation of labor unions, Watkins says, “You can’t play one group against the other.  So, yes, we need only one labor organization.  That is all we needed.  But we need to represent all working people.”  He states his beliefs on the necessity of organizing labor and discusses the problems he and others faced in organizing Montag (Mead).

Union Represented: Graphics Communication International Union


Williams, Clarence

Clarence Williams

Interviewed by: Andrew Reisinger; January 21, 2005
Transcript Information: 129 pages (3 DVDs)
Accession No: L2005-05

Biographical Information: Clarence L. Williams was born on march 28, 1938, in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of Booker T. Washigton High, Williams joined Ford Motor Company in 1963 and immediately became active in Local 882 of the United Auto Workers (UAW). In 1969, Williams began work as an organizer for the Alliance for Labor Action (ALA), a position he maintained until the dissolution of the ALA in 1973. From 1974-1976, Williams served as Vice President of Local 882, the first African American to hold that position. Then in 1979 Williams was invited to join the International Staff of the UAW; in 1990 he was appointed as area director of the Atlanta Sub-Regional Office of Region 8 of the UAW. Williams' final position was Vice President of the Georgia AFL-CIO, a position he held from 1999 until 2004 when he retired.

Abstract: Clarence Williams discusses growing up in northwest Atlanta and recounts his experiences as an African American growing up in the city during the 1940s and 1950s. He also details his parents careers, including his mother's work as a domestic and employee at Bell Bomber during World War II and his step-father's work at Puget Sound Ship Yard and Merita Bakery; both of his parents were active union members. Williams goes on to recount the many jobs he worked both before and after his military service in Germany in the 1950s.

Concerning his work with Ford Motor Company and the United Auto Workers, Williams discusses the safety, work environment, and racial tone of the plant during the 1960s. Speaking about African Americans gaining leadership positions in the local union, Williams recalls, "It was a constant struggle, and in fact, the way that blacks were elected [to leadership positions in the union] early on in that plant was that we formed a club...the Better Community Builders Club." Through the organizing efforts of the African Americans at Ford, Williams quickly won mumerous positions in the local union and was appointed to serve the UAW outside of the local. Detailing his work as a union organizer and leader, Williams discusses his duites in these positions, the challenges he faced organizing workers, and the many companies he serviced.

The last phase of the interview focuses on Williams' impressions of the current state of labor in the United States and the many challenges facing American society, as well as his own and the UAW's involvemen in civil rights work.

Unions and organizations represented: United Auto Workers, Local 882 (Atlanta, Ga.), Alliance for Labor Action, and Georgia AFL-CIO.

West, Edgar

Edgar West

Interviewed by: Norman Slawsky, September 14, 2005
Transcript info: 64 pages
Accession No: L2005-20

Biographical Information: A native of Savannah, Georgia, Edgar West was born on February 7, 1943. After graduating from high school, West spent three years in the Army working at a missile site in Greenland. He returned to Savannah after his military service and began an apprenticeship program with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (Ironworkers) Local 709. Becoming a journeyman in 1969, West traveled around the country working on several projects, including the erection of the World Trade Center. In 1988 West became business manager of Local 709, replacing his father-in-law, and stayed in that position until his retirement in March 2005.

Abstract: In this interview, West only briefly mentions his early life, spending a great deal of the interview discussing the day-to-day work of an Ironworker. He talks about the travel and the dangers he faced as an iron worker, recounting in particular his experiences working on the John Hancock building in Chicago and the World Trade Towers in New York. He discusses his rise to business manager of Local 709 in 1988. West states that he is most proud of his success in negotiating a project labor agreement (PLA) at the Savannah River Site, and also thinks that the Clinton administration's willingness to help organized labor made that agreement, and others like it, possible. Pam West, Edgar's wife and daughter of Local 709's former business manager, joins in the interview and recalls some of her experience as secretary of Local 709. West and his wife agree that they value the union because it ensures workers' safety and and healthcare, and most importantly, it allows its members to look forward to a dignified retirement.

Unions Represented: International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (Ironworkers) Local 709

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Southern Labor Archives

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