From the Archives: Celebrating SEIU’s African-American Leaders

seiu-org-logoAs I reviewed the SEIU archives for photographs and records featuring African-Americans to celebrate this Black History Month, I noticed that when it came to leadership at the International level, the year 1980 stood out. Although African-Americans served as International Officers and on the International Executive Board in previous years, never before had so many African Americans been represented in positions of leadership at the International level. As SEIU grew, so did the diversity of its membership, and it is inspiring to see that this was also reflected in its leadership. Below are photographs of several African American members of SEIU’s 1980 International Executive Board.



PHOTO: International Executive Board Member Walter Backstrom speaking during the 1984 SEIU International Convention. Walter started as a refuse collector and helped build a union that remains a strong voice for working men and women in the City of Los Angeles.

In addition to his work at SEIU Local 347, Walter was Executive Director of SEIU Local 99. In all of his roles he fought tirelessly for the right of public employees to bargain collectively with their employers over wages and working conditions. CREDIT: Photographer Unknown. Photographer Unknown


PHOTO: International Executive Board member Ophelia McFadden is seen here listening during a conference. McFadden became the first Black woman to be elected as Vice President of SEIU in 1984. She was also the first Black woman to serve on the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Council. For more than 30 years, Ophelia was an extraordinary SEIU leader, organizer, and political activist.

Her signature achievement was persevering through an 11-years long campaign to help lead 74,000 Los Angeles County Homecare Workers to win their battle to unite in SEIU to help improve their lives. It was among the biggest union organizing victories of the 20th century. Photographer Unknown

This article was originally printed on SEIU on February 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Alexandra Orchard, SEIU Archivist 

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa es estudiante de tercer año en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Siracusa. Se licenció en Periodismo en Penn State. Con su investigación jurídica y la redacción de Workplace Fairness, se esfuerza por dotar a las personas de la información que necesitan para ser su mejor defensor.