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(1886) T. Thomas Fortune, “The Present Relations of Labor and Capitol”

In 1886, T. Thomas Fortune, born enslaved in Florida thirty years earlier, was already a newspaper owner and publisher in New York City and author of Black and White: Land, Labor and Politics in the Old South (1884), the first significant work to argue that class conflict rather than racial strife was at the center of the struggles of African Americans in post-Civil War era. That year, against a backdrop of labor strikes across the nation, Fortune he delivered a speech on April 20 before the Brooklyn, New York Literary Union in which he aligned black workers with other workers throughout the world in a coming revolution that would bring about a reallocation of wealth. Less than two weeks later, on May 1, 350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments in the country at large went on strike for an eight hour day in what some labor leaders and capitalists saw as the beginning of that revolution. The speech, first published in Fortune’s newspaper, The New York Freeman, on May Day, 1886, appears below.

I do not exaggerate the gravity of the subject when I say that it is now the very first in importance not only in the United States but in every country in Europe. Indeed the wall of industrial discontent encircles the civilized globe.

The iniquity of privileged class and concentrated wealth has become so glaring and grievous to be borne that a thorough agitation and an early readjustment of the relation which they sustain to labor can no longer be delayed with safety to society.

It does not admit of argument that every man born into the world is justly entitled to so much of the produce of nature as will satisfy his physical necessities; it does; not admit of argument that every man, by reason of his being, is justly entitled to the air he must breathe, the water he must drink, the food he must eat and the covering he must have to shield him from the inclemency of the weather. These are self evident propositions, not disputed by the most orthodox advocate of excessive wealth on the one hand and excessive poverty on the

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