“None is so blind as those who will not see.”
As I and the leadership of the African-American Workers Union read the editorial, “A Champion is Dead, Who will Take His Place?” we pondered how and if we should respond to such a query. The bothersome question in our minds was; if we respond how we could get our point across without being accused of tooting our own horn or some other negative depiction . We resolved that our mission as a “Union” was too important to the lives we strive to uplift to leave the issue un-responded to. First, we consider Mr. Nate Smith a great man who’s courage and dedication to others is beyond question. The foundation he, “Swamp Man” Williams, Ms. Alma Fox, Attorney Byrd Brown and others laid regarding the racism in the Pittsburgh construction industry was the fertile soil upon which our union’s Construction Division was built. We learned many things from their experience, as we learned from the Civil Rights movement and other champions of history. One of the most important lessons we learned was the precept that, as a people, you cannot expect other people to do for you what you refuse to do for yourself.
We learned from Dr. Carter G. Woodson, that you must create your own front door to inclusion or you will be perpetually doomed to the back door and exclusion. It was for that reason that our union’s approach to the construction industry was different. It is an institutional approach with all the certification the resistant white led trade unions have. This was no easy task and even with it, we have had to protest, go to jail, be attacked in the media and even in our own community, by the agents of the status quo, both Black and White. When “Plan B”, the building of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center was conducted, had the African-American community supported our efforts, we estimate over $58 million dollars in construction wages and benefits would have been attained by the African-American community. Hundreds of young Black men and women would be journey persons by now instead of being largely spectators to the building of their new communities, the Consol Arena and yes, even their own cultural center. We ask, how in the world do African-Americans in this city expect to rid their communities of drugs, crime and violence, when they ignore the economic impact of an industry so ingrained in their city and communities? It is a undeniable fact, that while others are building futures for themselves all around us, they also are building new prisons for many of us. Who are the many of us; the thousands of our children, young men and women who are living with the highest poverty rates in the nation while being locked out of an industry worth billions? The fact is, it’s not too late to turn things around. There are many new projects on the table worth billions yet to be done. The question is? Will the African-American Community in Pittsburgh learn from its history? Mr. Nate Smith and the others of their generation courageously stood up to injustice and made a difference. They knew, the only way not to be walked on, was to stand up and show up. If we proclaim we want to improve our conditions as a people, it is imperative we do the same!
Calvin K. Clinton Sr., president
African-American Workers Union