The history of Houston's Hughes Tool Company serves as a mirror to the rise of the labor movement in the mid-20th century, and also how the labor and civil rights movements intersected. Former steelworker Michael Botson is now a history professor at Houston Community College.
"And I'll be giving a presentation on a civil rights case that was decided at the Hughes Tool Company in which the union that represented workers at the company was decertified by the Labor Board for racial discrimination. And it was a significant case because what it did was it established a precedent for the desegregation for organized labor throughout the United States. And happening at a Houston company--especially one with the notoriety of the Hughes Tool Company--is what eventually sparked my interest in the case itself and what ultimately led me to finish this book." Ed: "Okay, so your interest in this is sort of academic. I mean, you read about it, you heard about it, you wanted to know more and you did your research." "Exactly, and I did my research at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, which is a treasure chest of Houston documents and records of famous people and companies, including Howard Hughes and the Hughes Tool Company." Ed: "You're now a professor of history at HCC. You're a former steelworker." "Yes. Previously, I worked in the steel industry as a blue-collar millwright for nine years, and when I was downsized out of my job at Cameron Ironworks here in Houston in 1982, I eventually found my way into community college, and enjoyed what I was doing in learning because I had never been in college before, and ultimately decided to pursue an academic career."
Botson says he interviewed former workers of the Hughes Tool Company in his research.
"Historians, for the most part, look at Houston as a backwater in the civil rights movement, and this event clearly demonstrates that Houston had a major role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, because this decision at the Hughes Tool Company, when it was put within a national context, it clearly defined the role that unions must play in protecting black workers' civil rights." Ed: "In talking to those folks, do you suppose that they, at that time, realized the historic significance of what was going on, you know, while they were working there?" "I believe they did. And the reason I say that is that as I spoke to these people--both white and black—they were aware of what was going on in the country beginning in 1955 with the rising notoriety of civil rights and agitation and also the growing mood in the country that something needed to be done to break down the barrier of racial segregation. And by 1960, these, this small cadre of workers at the Hughes Tool Company had decided that enough was enough and it was time to go ahead and try, and break that barrier down at the company. And utilizing the help of the federal government and the NAACP, they were able to go ahead and accomplish this."
Botson's presentation is set for seven this evening at the Museum of Printing History on West Clay.