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240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 illus.

ISBN  978-0-8078-4524-0
Published: April 1995

Iron and Steel

Class, Race, and Community in Birmingham, Alabama, 1875-1920

By Henry M. McKiven Jr.

In this study of Birmingham's iron and steel workers, Henry McKiven unravels the complex connections between race relations and class struggle that shaped the city's social and economic order. He also traces the links between the process of class formation and the practice of community building and neighborhood politics. According to McKiven, the white men who moved to Birmingham soon after its founding to take jobs as skilled iron workers shared a free labor ideology that emphasized opportunity and equality between white employees and management at the expense of less skilled black laborers. But doubtful of their employers' commitment to white supremacy, they formed unions to defend their position within the racial order of the workplace. This order changed, however, when advances in manufacturing technology created more semiskilled jobs and broadened opportunities for black workers. McKiven shows how these race and class divisions also shaped working-class life away from the plant, as workers built neighborhoods and organized community and political associations that reinforced bonds of skill, race, and ethnicity.

About the Author

Henry M. McKiven, Jr., is assistant professor of history at the University of South Alabama.


"This informative and interesting look into the skilled world of Birmingham's iron and steel workers will surely stand the test of time."
--Alabama Review

"An intelligent, clearly argued book that deserves to be read."
--American Historical Review

"This impressive book illuminates the workplace conflicts, political battles, racial tensions, and community struggles that shaped working-class life in the New South. It is based on exhaustive research and is at once authoritative in its treatment of Birmingham's working people and nuanced in its analysis of the intersection of technology, industrial development, community institutions, and public life."
--Robert H. Zieger, University of Florida

"Better than anyone who has written so far about southern workers, [McKiven] shows exactly how skilled white workers consciously separated themselves from unskilled blacks in order to protect their own material interests. He goes on to explain how industrialists encouraged the elevation of blacks up the job ladder in the 1910s and thus threatened the white monopoly of good jobs. The intimate details of workplace race tension mark a significant contribution to the race vs. class discussion in southern history."
--Robert J. Norrell, University of Alabama

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