Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering a Labor Day Hero: Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson

Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson, circa 1970

Although many of us enjoy celebrating the Labor Day holiday weekend with cookouts, parties, or restful leisure activities, reflection over the holiday’s purpose is often the last thing on our minds. The federal holiday was made official in the 1890s to atone for the country’s violent response to the infamous Pullman Strike. It was also a way to commemorate the hard work of American employees and the courage of labor organizations that lobbied to improve ill-working conditions, reduce work hours, increase wages, and to act as mediators between profit-driven industries and neglected employees.

There is evidence of the undeterred efforts of labor unions and the people that were instrumental in creating union branches within our very own archive. Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson mobilized community members and organized protests with her then neighbor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights movement. As a community activist, she drew from her Civil Rights organizing experience and personal employment past to develop the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., which successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and other U.S. cities.

With bestsellers and blockbuster hits like “The Help” reminding today’s moviegoers of the daunting task of caretaking for Southern white families in the 1960s, it is empowering to know one of Atlanta’s very own was instrumental in improving the lives of domestic workers who really did in fact endure challenges and inequalities. Let us never neglect to remember our labor champions, the reason for the holiday.

For more information on the life and achievements of Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson and her work with the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., visit AARL to view the Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson Collection. Also have a look at a recent blog post from one of our researchers, Daniel Horowitz Garcia, which features even more additional resources.


Green, James. Death In the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.

Posted by Yewande Addie, AARL Intern

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