T. Thomas Fortune: “The Present Relations of Labor and Capital”

(1886)

T. Thomas Fortune’s speech “The Present Relations of Labor and Capital” was an important statement of economic radicalism by a leading black writer, newspaper editor, and political activist of the late nineteenth century. The speech was given on April 20, 1886, and then first appeared in print on May 1—May Day—in Fortune’s newspaper, the New York Freeman. Fortune was one of the few high-profile black leaders of the era to voice his support for the labor movement and to embrace Socialist principles. Fortune believed that industrial labor unions, concentrated in northern cities and western mining towns, ought to ally themselves with southern black agricultural laborers in common cause against monopolists of wealth and property. Fortune’s position put him outside the mainstream political discourse, and he echoed some of the most radical elements of the labor movement.

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Scenes of the 1877 railroad strike (Library of Congress)

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