Sunday, February 8, 2009

Amalgamation to Inauguration: A history of Local 767, Local 47 and our nation's new President



Published in the February 2009 issue of the Overture, official publication of Professional Musicians, Local 47.



Amalgamation to Inauguration
A history of Local 767, Local 47 and our nation's new President


by Linda Rapka, Overture Managing Editor

Having just elected our first black President, our nation has come further than ever before in erasing the color line of inequality. But it wasn't all that long ago when segregation was in full force, a time when it was accepted as a given that blacks should be separated from whites in society.

Our very union was among the many and varied institutions in the nation enforcing racial segregation. During this time, the AFM had more segregated Locals than any other international or national union. Up until the early 1950s, Los Angeles musicians belonged to one of two Locals: the all-white Local 47, or the all-black Local 767.

"Segregation was a way of life," explained Marl Young, recently retired from the Local 47 Board of Directors and who was instrumental in the amalgamation of the two Los Angeles musicians unions. "Nobody thought too much about it at the time. It was taken for granted as just being the way things were."

Under union segregation, black musicians received some protection. The Federation ruled that its black members came under the jurisdiction of the black Local, no matter what type of engagement they played. For example, if black musicians performed in a white club, the black Local had to enforce the wage and working conditions of the white Local, a rule meant to ensure equal pay. The Federation also ruled that if a black musician were denied admission to a Local, he or she could join the nearest Local that would accept the musician and should receive all the privileges of membership of that Local.

Segregation continued in the AFM for 51 years until a group of L.A. musicians decided that having two separate unions for one group of musicians just didn't make sense. The Bylaws of each Local stated that the purpose of each organization was to unite all the professional musicians of the Los Angeles area. They maintained that "all" should be inclusive of black and white musicians.

Starting around early 1950, prominent black musicians including Buddy Collette, Ernie Freeman, Bill Douglass, Percy McDavid, John Ewing, Gerald Wiggins, Jimmy Cheatham, John Anderson, Red Callender, Gerald Wilson, Marl Young and Bobby Short, joined by white musicians including George Kast, Gail Robinson, Seymour Sheklow, Roger Segure, Joe Eger, Henry and Esther Roth, Erica Keen, and Emma Hardy Hill, with the support of Josephine Baker, began making concerted efforts to arouse public interest in the fight for equality within the musicians union.

After years of dedication and hard work, the first merger of black and white Locals took place in 1953 in Los Angeles when Local 767 amalgamated with Local 47. In the pre-civil rights era of the early 1950s, this was an extraordinary feat. Marl Young wrote the amalgamation proposal that took effect April 1, 1953, forever eradicating racial segregation from the musicians union of Los Angeles. This historic merger set the precedent for other Locals throughout the nation to follow suit and end segregation within the entire AFM.

Now, five decades later, the equal rights movement has come further than ever before in creating equality in our society. The nation watched as Barack Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009 as our 44th President. Without the steadfast dedicated efforts of our brothers and sisters fighting in the equal rights movement, this vision could not have been realized.

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