The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements have brought to the forefront many social issues not prevalent in mainstream media. These movements garnered national and international support via social media. However, there have been strong voices that have been working and organizing on behalf of the underrepresented citizens for many years.
Dorothy Lee Bolden was the founder and president of the National Domestic Worker's Union of America. Mrs. Bolden started as a Domestic Worker at the tender age of nine and continued working in the trade for forty-one years. She was involved in the civil rights movement with her then neighbor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He encouraged her in community organizing against the Atlanta School Board decision to condemn a neighborhood school. She used the experience as a catalyst to organize her colleagues. Mrs. Bolden became a sounding board for many women and their experiences working for families residing in the exclusive areas of Atlanta. Domestic workers endured 13-hour days with low pay from $ 3.50 to $5.00 in 1960. In 1968 Dorothy Bolden started discussions with other unions about a national union for maids.
Organization and education were critical for community organizing. Maids were negotiating with private families and not corporations. With the assistance of the Urban League, Atlanta radio station WAOK and wider community support, these women were able to improve their working conditions. Dorothy Bolden exclaimed, “We aren’t Aunt Jemima women, and I am sure to God don’t want people to think we are. We are politically strong and independent.” Her organizing efforts gained the attention of the Nixon Administration and she was later appointed to an advisory committee on social services and welfare. Mrs. Bolden spent her time advocating for training and education for domestic workers, while tirelessly supporting community efforts for affordable city services and housing.
Dorothy Lee Bolden eventually organized 10 cities and had 13,000 women benefiting from job referrals and organizing. An Atlanta icon, Mrs. Bolden stated “These women are still struggling. These women have built this country with the sweat of their brow. Their parents worked in the fields. You look over your shoulder and wonder if the field is still there.” Dorothy Lee Bolden started a grassroots movement in the South that went national. Her story might offer some insight for social and political movements on the fine skills of organizing and negotiation.
AARL houses and makes available the Dorothy Lee Bolden Papers http://tinyurl.com/6wy8hgg
Posted by Ayannah Zafir, Archives Library Associate