The role of African Americans in the organized labor movement has changed significantly since the late 1800s. African Americans were originally denied union membership, and factory managers often recruited African American workers from south of the Ohio River to work in factories and coal mines when white workers went on strike.
African Americans did begin to organize separate unions in the occupations they dominated. In the 1890s, the barbers in Muncie organized their own union, the "colored barbers' union."
Until the end of the 1930s, most African Americans in Muncie held jobs that were not unionized. They were domestic servants, janitors, launderers, and handymen. Those who did work in factories, such as Ball Brothers, Whitely Malleable, and Indiana Wire and Steel, were often not in positions represented by the unions.
The wartime industrial boom of the 1940s opened up new opportunities in Muncie's factories for African-American men and women. Delco Remy Local 489 was the first union to admit African-American members in 1938. Many mills, foundries, and glass factories opened their doors to African Americans for the first time. A smaller number of African Americans secured employment in the major automotive plants. The hiring of African-American workers gave them new opportunities to join unions and assume leadership positions.
Unions around the country were very active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. African Americans in Muncie fought hard to end discriminatory labor practices in Muncie's automotive factories and unions. Since the end of the 1970s, they have been employed by all the major factories and have been active participants in the labor unions.