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Overview

The birth and growth of the American labor movement often conjures images of the Northern industrial worker's plight in the factory. A significant and integral portion of organized labor's early struggles, however, took place in the fields of the rural South, and Howard A. Kester was one of the earliest and most active proponents of tenant farmers' rights.

The Howard A. Kester Papers documents the life and works of this man, who spearheaded many liberal causes in the South for over a half century. Students of political science, labor law and history, and sociology will find this collection frees them from traditional reliance on secondary information in their research into the historical roots of the American labor movement.

Although religious reform was one of Kester's early concerns as an ordained minister, his most notable achievement was in the field of labor as the founder of the powerful Southern Tenant Farmers Union. The STFU was one of the earliest organized attempts to reshape traditional Southern attitudes on race relations, politics, religion, education, and other issues. These efforts to improve the working conditions of the South's poor and oppressed provided the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

As these documents reflect, Kester was also active in education, serving as a teacher and dean of students at several colleges during his lifetime. This indefatigable activist also participated in many social action groups, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Committee on Economic and Racial Justice.

Featured in the collection are articles, reports, minutes of STFU meetings, and Kester's correspondence with such prominent figures as Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Thomas, John Nevin Sayre, Roy Wilkins, Thomas B. Cowan, Walter White, and many others. The documents reveal Kester's many roles within the STFU as a keynote speaker at rallies, organizational philosopher and poet, polemicist and fund raiser, and provide a wealth of information on subjects such as labor, economic reform, race relations, and religious reform.

An understanding of the American labor movement is vital to an understanding of American history or contemporary American society, and these papers provide an important resource key to such research.

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