How Isaac Myers formed a marine company to support unemployed blacks in the 1860s

Isaac Myers/Photo credit: Wikipedia

The reality Isaac Myers knew about the Baltimore shipyard was that it was an integrated space that employed both black and white workers. Conditions even improved for African Americans in the shipyard when its members decided to form the Caulkers Association, one of the first African-American trade unions in the United States.

By 1850, black workers were in the category of best-paid staff. This drew animosity and fierce resistance from the white workers and immigrants who demanded the shipyard owners cease the hiring of black caulkers. In 1865, the tension between the two blocs had reached a crescendo; the white workers embarked on a strike that compelled the shipyard owners to sack the African American workers, leading to more than 1,000 dock workers being fired.

This struck a chord with Isaac, who faced racial discrimination as a child. He had to learn how to read and write from his master because the Baltimore schools did not permit black children to enroll in the schools. Despite being born to free parents in 1835, he was not shielded from this discrimination, he was already aware of the conditions in the shipping industry because he was employed as an apprentice with Thomas Jackson, an African American ship caulker.

As a visionary and a leader, Isaac was determined to create opportunities for African American workers in the face of discrimination and racism. So when the white workers at the shipyard in Baltimore demanded that the owners sack 1,000 black workers in 1865, Myers refused to accept this injustice and rallied a group of both African American and white business owners to establish a new shipyard that would operate as a cooperative.

The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company was born from this effort, which quickly became a symbol of hope and progress for the community. With Isaac at the helm, the shipyard employed more than 300 African American workers and offered them good pay and fair treatment. For many of these workers, it was their first real opportunity to earn a decent wage and support their families.

Under Myers’ leadership, the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company flourished, even as many other businesses struggled in the aftermath of the Civil War. The company became known for its skilled workforce, and it was not uncommon for other businesses to turn to the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company for help with their own projects, according to aflcio.

The new shipyard thrived for a long period of time, until 1884 when they lost the lease. Isaac served as a board member and an unofficial spokesperson for the company. After the company folded up, Isaac turned his attention to galvanizing African American workers into a union. By 1868, he was president of the Colored Caulkers’ Trade Union Society of Baltimore. He used his influence to push for better working conditions for African Americans, but was met with constant resistance.

His legacy years down the lane, lives on and has become a testament to the power of determination and perseverance. Despite facing discrimination and racism, he refused to back down and instead, chose to fight for a better future for himself and his community. His efforts laid the foundation for a more just and equitable society, and his vision continues to inspire generations of workers and activists today.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 6, 2023


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