Race, Law, and Aluminum: Harris A. Parson and Twenty Years of Workplace Struggle

Darius Caleb Smith, Tulane University

Race, Law, and Aluminum: Harris A. Parson and Twenty Years of Workplace Struggle In September of 1967, Harris Alfred Parson filed suit against the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation and the Aluminum Workers International Union’s Local 225 with charges of racial discrimination at Kaiser’s plant in Chalmette, Louisiana. Harris Parson filed suit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibited workplace discrimination. By June of 1984, the Times-Picayune reported that Parson successfully sued the Kaiser company in an eighteen-year long struggle. Parson was awarded $113,000 in backpay. Other African Americans apart of the class action lawsuit received roughly three million dollars in sum. This essay uses the Parson v. Kaiser case as a thread in analyzing the development of Title VII law through the climax of deindustrialization. Chronologically, this essay extends Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s “long civil rights” argument further right by challenging narratives that situate the post-1965 sector of the African American freedom struggle as solely dominated by the age of black power. This essay argues that everyday labor activists, like Parson, shaped the law and defined its effectiveness while civil rights lawyers seized on the ambiguities of an initially vague Title VII law. By the time Parson saw victory in Louisiana’s Eastern District Court, Kaiser’s Chalmette plant was closed due to a global economic downturn. The recession ensured that affirmative action policies would not mature quickly for black workers nationwide.

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 Presented in Session 214. Questioning Racial Hierarchies at Work