From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Calloway, Ernest Abner

(born: 1909  -  died: 1989) 

Ernest Abner Calloway was a writer, union organizer and advocate, civil rights activist, politician, and educator. Born in Herberton, WV [also known as Willis Branch], Calloway came to Letcher County, KY, with his family in 1913. They were one of the first African American families in the coal mining community in Letcher County. His father helped organize the first Local United Mine Workers Union.

In 1925, Ernest Calloway ran away to Harlem [New York City]. Within a few years he returned to Kentucky and worked in the coal mines. Beginning In 1930, Calloway was a drifter for three years, traveling throughout the U.S. and Mexico before returning to Kentucky to work in the coal mines again.

It would be Calloway's writing that would help him leave Kentucky for good. He had written an article on the use of marijuana and submitted it to Opportunity magazine. The article was rejected, but Calloway was asked to write an article on the working conditions of Negro coal miners in Kentucky. Published in March 1934, the article led to Calloway being offered a scholarship to Brookwood Labor College [info] in New York.

Calloway would go on to help establish and influence many union organizations. Early in his career he developed the Virginia Workers' Alliance, organized the Chicago Redcaps [railroad station porters] and the United Transport Employee Union, and assisted in the writing of the resolution for the development of the Committee Against Discrimination in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

Ernest Calloway was the first African American to refuse military service because of racial discrimination. In 1955, he was president of the St. Louis, MO, NAACP branch. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1968 and was a part-time lecturer at St. Louis University in 1969.

For a more detailed account of Calloway's career, see the "Ernest Abner Calloway" entry in the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, by L. O. Christensen; and the Ernest Calloway Papers, 1937-1983 at the State Historical Society of Missouri, St. Louis.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Opportunity : journal of Negro life (periodical)
NKAA Source: Dictionary of Missouri biography

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Calloway, Ernest Abner,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2020-11-04 19:36:42