Cement and Concrete Workers: African Americans in Kentucky and The Women Workers, 1910-1930(start date: 1910 - end date: 1930) INTRODUCTION:
There is not an official record of all enslaved and freemen in Kentucky who were cement and concrete workers prior to being emancipated. The main purpose of this entry is to present the number of African American cement and concrete workers in Kentucky from 1910-1930. This was a heyday period just prior to the Davis-Bacon Act that was meant to prevent non-union African American and immigrant construction workers from competing with unionized white workers. The second purpose of this entry is to highlight the fact that women were employed in the cement and concrete industry long before construction companies were confronted with equal job opportunity demands in the 1960s. These women were part of the industrial work force and the demand for workers in the American labor movement.
Source: J. Frantz, "Davis-Bacon: Jim Crow's Last Stand," 2/1/1994, a Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) webpage.
*This entry pertains only to workers in the United States. In many other countries, there is a much longer history and much larger non-dominant populations, both women and men, who were cement and concrete workers.
Cement and concrete work were not considered building trades or skilled labors in the early 1900s in the United States; both were viewed as general construction labor (see Concrete and Culture, by A. Forty). African American men have always worked on construction projects; many enslaved Africans built their own homes and were also laborers used by others on construction projects. Many sources are available that discuss the use of enslaved labor on projects of all types, including the building of the White House. There are also many sources that discuss the efforts of African American construction workers to gain access to labor unions that were the gatekeepers to higher paying jobs on construction projects.
Construction techniques and materials advancements, such as reinforced concrete, are among the many, many factors that contributed to increased building after the year 1900. The first reinforced high rise was the Ingalls Building, constructed in 1903 in Cincinnati, OH. Various kinds of concrete have been used around the world since ancient times. Natural cements have been produced in the United States since the 1820s. Kentucky became a top producer of natural cement by the year 1900. In San Francisco, CA, Ernest Ransome was first to use reinforced concrete in the U.S.; in 1844 he patented cold twisted iron bars as reinforcement.
At this time, there is not a written history of the early contributions made by women to the cement and concrete industry in the United States.
CEMENT: a powder of alumina, silica, lime, iron oxide, and magnesium oxide burned together in a kiln and finely pulverized and used as an ingredient of mortar and concrete. Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
NATURAL CEMENT: a hydraulic cement made from limestone that has up to 25% clay content (argillaceous limestone). The word 'natural' means the raw material is mined and burnt with no further additions. Sources: Merriam-Webster Dictionary; Rosendale Natural Cement website; and "Natural Cement" at the Traditional Building website.
HYDRAULIC CEMENT: cement that sets and hardens by chemical reaction with water (hydration) and is capable of doing so under water (ACI 225R). Source: American Concrete Institute.
CONCRETE: a hard strong building material made by mixing a cementing material (such as portland cement) and a mineral aggregate (such as sand and gravel) with sufficient water to cause the cement to set and bind the entire mass. Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
REINFORCED CONCRETE: concrete in which steel is embedded in such a manner that the two materials act together in resisting forces. The reinforcing steel—rods, bars, or mesh—absorbs the tensile, shear, and sometimes the compressive stresses in a concrete structure. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
*Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)
*Encyclopaedia Britannica (online)
A BIT ABOUT KENTUCKY:
At the turn of the century, it was estimated that Louisville, KY furnished about a quarter of the natural cement used in the United States [source: Louisville Hydraulic Cement, published in 1901 by the Western Cement Company in Louisville]. Another company, the Louisville Cement Company, was thought to be the world's largest producer of natural cement by the year 1900 [source: "Louisville Cement Company" in The Encyclopedia of Louisville, edited by J. E. Kleber]. Cement workers and dealers were available throughout Kentucky. See some of them listed in the Directory of the American Cement Industries and Handbook for Cement Users, edited by C. C. Brown, 1901, the first volume of this publication. The directory listed 10 Kentucky cities with cement workers and 29 cities with cement dealers. The directory did not indicate if African Americans and women were among the names or business owners.
The early gathering of the names, races, genders, and geographic locations of individuals who worked in cement and concrete can be found in U.S. Census records. For the state of Kentucky, less than 100 names appeared in each of the annual records leading up to the year 1900. Then suddenly in the 1910 Census, there were more than 1,000 names listed from throughout Kentucky that included men and a few women.
According to author D. Bernstein, there were approximately 150,000 African American construction workers in the United States in the late 1920s, most working in the south [source: D. Bernstein, Only One Place of Redress, p. 70]. African American construction workers in Kentucky were included in that number. Construction work was the third highest occupation of African Americans behind agricultural work and domestic services. African American cement and concrete workers were part of the construction workforce. They were considered unskilled laborers; the jobs they held paid lower wages than those paid to white workers. Below are some general data on the construction industry from the 1930 U.S. Census.
- There were 828,772 operative builders, general contractors, and subcontractors in the United States [source: 1930 Census: General Survey of the Construction Industry. Chapter 3. Table XVI, p. 32. (online at Census Bureau website)].
- There were 591 women counted among the 194,963 proprietors, managers, and officials in the construction industry [source: Part I. Comparative Occupation Statistics, 1870-1940. A Comparison of the Census Occupation and Industry Classifications and Statistics of 1930 and 1940. Table 2, p. 50 (online at Census Bureau website)].
- There were 330 construction establishments and 935 salaried employees with annual salaries totaling $2,427,143 in Kentucky [sources: 1930 Census: Construction Industry. Kentucky. Table I, p .487. Table 5, p. 490 (online at Census Bureau website)].
- In the U.S. there were 13,465 Negro male plasterers and cement finishers, and one female (p. 303). In Kentucky there were 452 Negro male plasterers and cement finishers, and no data for females (p. 305).
- In the U.S. there were 2,566 Negro male builders and building contractors, and four females. In Kentucky there were 73 Negro males and no data for females.
- In the U.S. there were 95,618 Negro male building construction, laborers and helpers, and 31 females. In Kentucky there were 2,239 Negro males and no data for females.
- In the U.S. there were 6,016 Negro males working in the lime, cement, and artificial-stone factories; and 25 females. In Kentucky there were no data for Negro males or females.
The city directories are another option for locating and double checking occupations. Within city directories, race is sometimes indicated for African Americans. A woman's occupation may have been added if she was listed in the directory as single. In the case of married couples, it was usually only the husband's occupation that was included in the listing. Every city directory has a different arrangement. One of the challenges with city directories is that it is sometimes difficult to decipher if a person is male or female based solely on their name. A few examples are Cada Fowler, an African American concrete worker in Lexington who is listed on p. 407 in the Lexington City Directory, 1923; Camille Mazeau, a construction engineer at the Lou Bussey Process Company in Louisville, listed on p. 1006 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1921; and Crystal Hays, who was found to be an African American man who was a concrete worker in Louisville during the 1920s [source: p. 728 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1923].
Individuals are not named within the literature written about African American construction workers. What is noted is that there was a very high level of employment in the 1920s, and major changes came about when the demand developed for African American construction workers in major cities in the north. The African American workers were viewed in the south and in northern cities as an accessible and cheaper labor force. The migration of African American, non-union construction workers was said to have caused a decrease in the hiring of white construction workers in northern cities, especially those who were union members.
African American construction workers were also used as strikebreakers. When the African American construction workers migrated to northern cities, it resulted in a decrease in the cheaper construction labor that had been available in the south. When the construction industry became depressed just ahead of The Great Depression in 1929, one group to receive the blame were the African American construction workers from southern states.
For Kentucky, there was not a significant out-migration of African American construction workers to northern cities. Nor was there a significant in-migration of African American construction workers to Kentucky from southern states. Looking at the individual census sheets for Kentucky, there were approximately 285 African American construction workers enumerated in 1910; 3,300 in 1920; and 2,265 in 1930. In addition to these construction workers, there were at least 556 cement and concrete workers in 1910; 423 in 1920; and 533 in 1930 (see attached worksheet). The cement and concrete workers were employed in 70 of the 120 counties in Kentucky. More than half of these workers were employed in Jefferson County. There was a wide range of job titles, including business owners, contractors, finishers, laborers, layerers, masons, millers, miners, mixers, molders, teamsters, hod carriers, and truck drivers.
There were women employed in the concrete and cement industry in 10 Kentucky counties (see attached sheet). There were at least 10 women employees in 1910, 18 in 1920, and 39 in 1930. The majority of the women were employed in Jefferson County as stenographers, bookkeepers, and clerks. Ten of the women worked in factories where they made, sewed, repaired, and tied cement bags. Six of the women were laborers employed as a canvasser, acement worker, a finisher, a contractor, and two concrete construction workers. The group was made up of young single women along with ten widows, seven married women, and four divorced women. In 1918, eight women were hired by the Portland plant of the Louisville Cement Company in Speed, IN, where the women earned $2.80 per day, the same as men [source: "Women cement workers make good in Indiana," El Paso Herald, 8/18/1918, p.n4].
Among the African American women workers in Kentucky was Sallie Sloan in Louisville, who sewed bags at a cement factory. She is listed in the 1910 Census as Mulatto, married, and living on St. Catherine Street. Pearl Mundy was a cement contractor listed in the 1930 Census, a single Negro who lived with her cousins on E. 11th Street in Covington. Estelle White also lived in Covington; she was a cement finisher listed in the 1930 Census. She was divorced and a lodger who living on East Cleveland Street. Margurite Payne was head of her household on E. Sixth Street in Lexington, where her widowed daughter and four grandchildren lived with her. Margurite Payne was also a widow, listed as Black in the 1930 Census. She was employed as a laborer in the concrete industry. Queenie Floyd was also in Lexington, living on Elm Street. She was Negro who lived alone and was divorced, according to the 1930 Census. She worked as a laborer in concrete construction and is also listed as a cook on p. 236 of Polk's Lexington (Kentucky) City Directory, 1930.
In addition to the women who were cement and concrete workers, in 1910 there were two African American women in Christian County working in construction: Lucy L. Channels and Nancy Henderson. In 1930 in Louisville, Nancy Brown and Willie Harris were street construction workers, and Laura Williams was working in construction.
With the start of a new century in 1900, there grew attitudes of optimism and affluence in the world's most prosperous country. There were jobs. Wages had increased. The U.S. population had increased by 21% between 1900-1910. Restrictions were placed on immigrants. There was more building, more construction, and new and more stable ways of building. But it was a short-lived period. The Great Depression and the Davis-Bacon Act were only two of the many reasons for the declining number of African American construction workers at the start of the 1930s. With a decline in the number of construction workers, there was also the loss in the number of cement and concrete workers, both men and women.
FINAL WORDS ABOUT THE WOMEN WORKERS
The cement and concrete jobs held by women in Kentucky from 1910-1930 were similar to the types of jobs held by women throughout the United States. A noted difference was that outside Kentucky there were also white women in leadership positions within companies and organizations. In Chicago Maude Venn managed a cement association, and Margaret Baker was foreman of a cement construction business. Julia Tuttle was an agent for a cement company in Marshall, IA. Edna C. Ballard was a cement worker, self-employed in Charleston, WV. In Jamestown, NY, Anna Schult was a cement contractor/owner.
Among the African American women outside of Kentucky, there were many general laborers and factory and mill workers as well as stenographers and bookkeepers. A few, such as Alice Booker in Chicago, were cement contactors and owners of their businesses. Bernice McCoy in Norfolk, VA, working together with her husband, was a concrete mixer. Julia Stewart worked with her two adult sons; they were all concrete mixers in Charleston, SC. Jennie Robinson was a concrete maker/contractor in Richmond, VA.
More research is needed for a much fuller understanding of the knowledge gap surrounding the early women construction workers in the United States. Women had been working in construction, including cement and concrete, before the year 1900. Their presence became more evident in the 1910 U.S. Census with a slight increase in numbers. These women, not union members, did not disappear after the year 1930. In the 1940 U.S. Census there were 1,258 women counted among the 125,696 proprietors, managers, and officials in the construction industry [source: Part I. Comparative Occupation Statistics, 1870-1940. A Comparison of the Census Occupation and Industry Classifications and Statistics of 1930 and 1940. Table 2, p. 50].
J. Pasley, "15 American landmarks that were built by slaves," a Business Insider web page, 9/6/2019 (online); C. Burria and M. Brice, "'Built by my family': America's grand buildings constructed by slaves," Reuters, 8/30/2019, (online); Chapter 5, "Slave Artisans: Black Nonagricultural Workers in Colonia America the Antebellum South" in Working the Diaspora, by F. C. Knight; History of Concrete, by P. Jahren and T. Sui; Concrete and Culture, by A. Forty; Only One Place of Redress, by D. E. Berstein, N. Devins, and M. A. Graber; Historic Concrete: background to appraisal, by J. Sutherland, D. Humm, M. Chrimes; For Jobs and Freedom: race and labor in America since 1865, by R. H. Zieger; Understanding Cement: an introduction to cement production, cement hydration, and deleterious processes in concrete, by N. B. Winter; "Women Construction Workers Guaranteed Equal Job Opportunity Where Federal Contracts Are Involved," in Black News Digest, 1972 July-December; and Employment Standards Digest, 1974, volumes 1-6.
*Attached to this entry is a list of the estimated number of African American cement and concrete workers in Kentucky, 1910-1930
A list of the estimated number of women employed in the cement and concrete industry in Kentucky, 1910-1930.
"The American Union of Cement Workers at Springfield, Ill., decided that hereafter negro cement workers shall form separate unions." Wichita Searchlight, 9/23/1905, p. 4.
Invisible Women: data bias in a world designed for men, by C. C. Perez.
Negro Membership in American Labor Unions by the Department of Research and Investigations of the National Urban League, Ira De A. Reid, Director, 1930 [online at Hathi Trust Digital Library].
The Negro Wage Earner, by L. J. Greene and C. G. Woodson.
The Negro in the American Labor Movement, by S. E. Warren
Rethinking the American Labor Movement, by E. Faue
Unionism Among Negroes in the United States (thesis), by E. H. Chaney. B. A. in Economics at Indiana University, 1923 [online at Hathi Trust Digital Library].
Women in the Engineering Trades, by B. Drake.
Women's Roles in Nineteenth Century America, by T. K. Wayne.