The American League of Colored Laborers (ALCL) was the first black labor union in the United States. It was founded in 1850 in New York City as a collective for competent free craftsmen with the goal of developing agricultural and industrial arts abilities among its members and encouraging African American entrepreneurship.
In response to the problems black laborers encountered in joining white unions, Frederick Douglass helped create the organization. The group met for the first time on June 13, 1850, in the lecture room of Zion’s church on the corner of Leonard and Church Street. The League elected Samuel Ringgold Ward of New York as president and Henry Bibb of Michigan as secretary.
Douglass agreed to serve as acting vice president. Notably, all three men were campaigners best known for their struggle to eliminate slavery rather than their advocacy for working-class people. Nonetheless, Douglass’ presence in the union leadership, as well as that of several newspaper editors, garnered the group significant prominence in the African American press at the time.
The union decided at that meeting to establish a fund to lend to black entrepreneurs and to hold an industrial expo the second week of May 1852. Seventy percent of the earnings would go to the exhibitors, while thirty percent would go to the union. The fair, however, never took place.
At the ALCL’s 1851 conference in New York, members discussed the establishment of a bank to supply credit and encourage saving. The ALCL was weakened by the tiny number of African American employees in cities at the time, as well as the growth of craft unions that excluded black workers from membership.
Bradley, J. (2011, January 04). American League of Colored Laborers (1850-?). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/american-league-colored-laborers-1850/