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Pittsburgher instrumental in labor unions in Africa

Monday, February 28, 2000

Pittsburgher Maida Springer-Kemp began her involvement in labor by working in a garment factory in 1932 during the Depression. Springer-Kemp joined the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1933 where she met A. Philip Randolph, an African-American labor and civil rights leader, who became her lifelong mentor and friend.

In 1945, Kemp became the first African-American woman to represent labor abroad, when she was chosen for a labor exchange trip to England. There she met pan-African leaders George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, and Ras Makonnen. From 1955 to 1965, she worked in Africa as an AFL-CIO international representative. Most everyone there affectionately called her "Mama Maida," as she helped to publicize the Africans' struggles against European colonialism and exploitative employers. Kemp also helped organize African labor unions and develop labor exchange programs and schools for workers.

Kemp's work for social justice has included promoting opportunities for women and African-Americans. In the 1960s, she helped unite Southern black and white workers, and in the 1970s, she was vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women. In the early 1980s, she helped organize the first women's bureau for the labor movement in Turkey.

By working with women, civil rights, labor and humanitarian causes, Kemp has proven herself as a tireless organizer and activist for social change.

-- By Yevette Richards, author of the forthcoming book, "Dancing on the End of a Needle: Maida Springer, A Story of Organized Labor, Pan-Africanism and the Cold War."

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