This collection documents the African American Labor Center (AALC) and the records from the executive director, Patrick O'Farrell, from 1957 to 1996. The AALC was founded in 1964 as an international extension of the AFL-CIO into a decolonizing Africa, and was incorporated into the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center in 1997. This material covers topics such as AALC projects or grants, educational meetings, conventions, and relationships with African trade union organizations like the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Organization of African Unity, and the Organization of African Trade Unionists.
This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. AFL-CIO staff and Solidarity Center staff reviewed boxes from 20 accessions to open them to the public on 7/18/2014, 12/9/2014, and 11/2/2015.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
This collection is minimally processed which means that materials are in the same order as when we received them and have been inventoried at the box and/or folder level. However, the materials may need further review by archives staff for content or condition.
Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.
Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder via the AFL-CIO.
Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.
262.5 Linear Feet (175 record storage boxes)
The African American Labor Center (AALC) records consist of clippings, correspondence, reports, and other records created from 1957 to 1996. The materials in this collection cover multiple aspects of the AALC, including records pertaining to internal administration, project files and weekly reports of African nation activities, the AALC Women's Program, relationships with international labor organizations (notably the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)), visitor programs, grant agency interaction, meetings and conventions, AALC publications, and the African Labor History Center. Due to the wide scope of the AALC, the institution created an abundance of reports, correspondence, and internal records to document their activities in individual African nations, in Pan-African affairs, and between the United States and Africa. Most records are products of the office of the executive director, Patrick O'Farrell.
The African American Labor Center (AALC), also referred to as the African American Labor Institute, was established between 1964 and 1965 with the assistance of Jay Lovestone. The Center was headquartered in New York, with several regional offices across Africa whose locations changed over time - known regional offices include Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nairobi, Kenya, and Lome, Togo. Irving Brown served as the first executive director, and Patrick J. O'Farrell served as the second executive director of the AALC.
The purpose of the institution was to form international links with trade unionists and practical trade union causes in Africa, such as collective bargaining. The AALC was also responsible for union education centers in Africa, where local activists participated in workshops, seminars, and conferences in labor issues and activism. To further the trade union cause, the AALC was also very active in collaboration with regional labor organizations, such as the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), to whom they provided funding and accessory services or support. Initially, the African American Labor Center was structured to have an executive director, supported by deputy directors in specialized areas. In 1997, the AALC was combined with three other AFL-CIO international labor institutes, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), to create the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. All of these organization's records are preserved and held in the archives at the University of Maryland.
From its inception, the AALC had a broad range of priorities and goals. At its core, the organization was primarily focused on supporting development projects in African nations. The Center was driven by a Board of Directors composed of representatives from American trade unions - usually the presidents or other high-ranking officials. The organization rarely worked alone, but instead tended to support other local/regional organizations in an effort to facilitate the founding of an organized labor infrastructure in Africa that would mirror what existed in the U.S. Frequent collaborators include the Ghana Trade Unions Congress (GTUC) in Ghana, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) in Kenya, the National Confederation of Togolese Workers (NCTT) in Togo, and the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU). They also worked with other intergovernmental organizations like the International Labor Organization (ILO) and various United Nations departments pertaining to labor and economic development.
The Center considered itself to be the “international assistance arm” (see AALC Fact Sheet 1972) of the AFL-CIO by operating in Africa in its support of the African national labor movements. They emphasized that any projects undertaken were filling direct requests and needs vocalized by the national labor centers. Major project categories included vocational and technical training, cooperatives and credit unions, medical assistance (usually supplies), literacy training, leadership and organizing seminars, and general trade union and workers’ education. They also provided funds for building construction renovations and the purchase of tools and equipment, as well as facilitated visits and meetings between African and American labor leaders. Projects typically consisted of the issuing of funds directly to requesting organizations, with some administrative support from the Center if necessary. The AALC was known to be active in the following countries, although this list may not be exhaustive: Botswana, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The Center held annual staff conferences from 1965 to 1985 (approximate) in a different African nation each year. These conferences were an opportunity for the staff from the headquarters office in New York to connect with the field staff based in regional offices throughout Africa. The agenda typically consisted of discussion of the status of any recently completed, ongoing, or upcoming projects as well as strategic planning regarding organizational goals, infrastructure, and management. Annual board meetings were held separately, but consisted of similar updates about the status of projects. The annual reports (also in this collection) were created prior to these meetings and provide a concise but detailed summary of the Center’s activities and projects for a given year, including budget and expenditure information.
The AALC Reporter was a monthly (later bimonthly) newsletter published by the Center from 1965 to 1985 - this collection contains almost the complete run of the publication. It was published in English and French, as well as Arabic for the later portion of the run. Typical contents of the newsletter include updates on AALC activities, reports on union activity in various African nations, discussion of international relations issues (e.g. broader U.S. involvement in African conflicts), updates on broader AFL-CIO activities pertaining to Africa, and reporting on visits and meetings between African and American labor leaders.
This collection is organized into twenty series by accession number. Each series represents a unique accession of archival material with the accession number order representing the date it was transferred to the archives.
This collection is stored offsite. For more information about requesting offsite materials please see our offsite policies: https://www.lib.umd.edu/special/policies/offsite
Materials were originally accessioned by the AFL-CIO George Meany Memorial Archive from 1990-1996. This collection was transferred to the University of Maryland as a major archival transfer in 2013. Between 2014-2015, AFL-CIO staff and Solidarity Center staff reviewed records and approved opening 20 accessions to the public.
An additional 24 accessions, included in the 2013 transfer to University of Maryland, were also accessioned by the AFL-CIO George Meany Memorial Archive from 1990-1997, but these records remain closed to the public.
This collection material was accessioned but unprocessed by the George Meany Memorial Archives.
Box 18 from accession AR1996-0240 was deaccessioned by the George Meany Memorial Archive on February 16, 2011 after it was checked out to Solidarity Center staff on September 23, 2010. Box 18 reappeared in a new 2017 accession from the Solidarity Center; it was reunited with the accession in September 2023.
AFL-CIO staff and Solidarity Center staff reviewed boxes from 20 accessions to open them to the public on 7/18/2014, 12/9/2014, and 11/2/2015.
Records Transfer Inventory (RTI) forms were digitized between 2018-2019.
In 2020, open records in this collection were minimally-processed, though no physical processing was performed. In 2020-2021, Tyler Black and Emily Moore created inventories from descriptive content available in digitized RTI forms for all open and closed accession documented by the Meany Archive for AALC. In 2023, Rosemarie Fettig reviewed 4 of the open accessions with existing folder lists for accuracy by comparing folder lists to the physical box contents. Some folders from accessions AR1991-0102, AR1991-0104, AR1992-0028, and AR1996-0240 were added/removed in the inventory and updated accordingly. Many of the other inventories describe material at the box level and were not further described at the time. Accession records were updated to include the inventory as an external document, and more specific notes were added regarding when each accession was opened.
In 2020, Tyler Black created a resource record in ArchivesSpace and a series level record was added for each open accession in the finding aid, listing the accessions in order by the accession number and including a descriptive title with dates.
In 2023, Rosemarie Fettig researched the organizational structure and history of AALC using materials in the collection and produced an updated Biographical/Historical Note.