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Labor Day and the Path Towards Progress: “To Labor and Study”

Stephanie Cobian | September 2nd, 2023

Embedded on Lincoln University's seal is the motto in Latin, "To Labor and Study,” which resonates with the essence of Labor Day. This motto simply states the profound significance of two key facets of life: hard work and intellectual pursuit. On this Labor Day, we not only commemorate the tireless efforts of the workforce, who are the bedrock of our nation's economic prosperity and growth, but we also reflect on the wisdom encapsulated in our university's motto. It is the basis upon which LU was founded, underscoring the fundamental belief that these two qualities are essential in keeping industries and economies thriving, as well as driving innovation and progress.

The Labor Movement emerged as a response to the harsh working conditions, long hours and low wages during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Workers began organizing and advocating for better treatment and fair compensation. Labor unions, which became the backbone of the movement, were formed and brought workers together to negotiate with employers for improved conditions collectively. In 1834, the first recognized labor union—National Trades' Union—was formed in the United States. Over time, unions gained influence and fought for rights such as the forty-hour workweek, better working conditions, fair wages and labor rights for workers.

However, despite these advances, African Americans still faced challenges accessing better-paying jobs and safe working conditions. Many found work in low-wage sectors such as domestic service and manual labor. Furthermore, they often faced discrimination within the labor unions and were excluded from receiving equal pay or the same benefits as other workers.

This prompted Black workers to form their own labor unions. In 1869, the Colored National Labor Union—a counterpart to the white National Labor Union—was established to pursue equal representation for African Americans. Despite the establishment of additional colored labor unions, it was not until 1925 that the first African American union organization was granted membership into the American Federation of Labor. President of the organization A. Philip Randolph succeeded in his 12-year quest to fight against racism in the workplace and the nation when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union obtained satisfactory compensation and job security for African American railroad workers. Another victory followed in 1941 when Randolph called for a March on Washington to end discrimination in hiring by unions and employers and eliminate segregation in the armed forces. 

The movement continued and became intertwined with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s as the struggle for civil rights and workers’ rights often went hand in hand. African Americans have made significant contributions to the Labor Movement and continue today in advocating for closing wage gaps, workplace diversity and equitable presentation. 

Today we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in making great strides towards creating a better life for those that are socially disadvantaged. The soldiers of the 62nd and 65th colored infantries recognized the need to combine labor and study to uplift those who had been laborers but not scholars. According to the University’s charter, “Its fundamental idea shall be to combine study with labor so that the old habits of those who labored, but never studied, shall not be thereby changed and that emancipated slaves, who have neither capital to spend nor time to lose, can obtain an education.”

Their vision, born from the experience of emancipated slaves after the Civil War, emphasized the transformative power of education coupled with diligent work.

Labor Day serves as more than just a day of respite; it's a reminder of the sacrifices, hard work and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of knowledge personally and professionally. It is the path toward progress, not only for us but for the betterment of our society.

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