Addie L. Wyatt was a renowned civil rights activist and leader in the United States Labor movement. However, she is best known for being the first African American woman-elected international vice president of a major labor union, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. Throughout her career, she constantly fought for human rights as a woman, a black person, and as a laborer.
Wyatt was born on March 8, 1924 in Brookhaven, Mississippi. At the age of six, her family relocated to Chicago in hopes of finding better job opportunities during the Great Depression. Wyatt married at the young age of 16 to a postal finance clerk. She had two sons, and raised her seven younger siblings after the death of her mother.
Wyatt applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company. Blacks were not hired to work in the front of any businesses during that time, so during her first day at work, she was placed in the canning department to pack stew for the army. During the 1950s, Wyatt joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America after she learned they did not discriminate against its members. As the forefront leader of black women within unions, she and others took advantage of the union’s anti-racist and anti-discrimination laws and fought race-based and gender-based inequities.
From 1956 to 1968, she joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, such as the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago.
Wyatt was elected vice president of her branch, Local 56, becoming the first black woman to hold senior office in an American labor union. She later became one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union for Women in order to create a strong voice for women in the labor movement. Wyatt was also one of the founding members of the National Organization for Women.
In 1975, along with politician Barbara Johnson, Wyatt was Time Magazine’s First Black Woman to be named “Person of the Year,” as she was recognized for “speaking out effectively against sexual and racial discrimination in hiring, promotion and pay. From 1980 -1984, Ebony Magazine also recognized her as being one of the most influential black leaders. In 1987, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award.