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CIO chief John L. Lewis cracks a rare smile: 1937 | by Washington Area Spark
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CIO chief John L. Lewis cracks a rare smile: 1937

Congress of Industrial Organizations chief John L. Lewis smiles while testifying before the Senate and House Labor Committees in 1937 endorsing the minimum and maximum hour provisions of the Black-Conner bill as a modest beginning of genuine planning towards a better economic order.


Lewis, an opponent of racial segregation, testified in 1938 against the nomination of Rep. Lindsay Warren (D-N.C.) as comptroller general of the United States based on his role in imposing Jim Crow on the House of Representatives public restaurant.


In January 1934, Warren issued orders to bar African Americans from the restaurant and its first victim was Morris Lewis, the confidential secretary to the only African American U.S. Representative at the time, Rep. Oscar DePriest (R-Il.).


The exclusion, along with the forcible eviction of civil rights activist Mabel Byrd from the Senate public restaurant the following month set of a series of demonstrations.


Small interracial groups sought service in the restaurants over a 10-day period in March 1934 seeking to integrate the restaurants by direct action.


A demonstration by 30 African American Howard University students attempting to integrate the House and Senate restaurants resulted in the arrest of five students, although charges were dropped.


DePriest pursued an inside strategy attempting to get a vote barring Jim Crow in the House restaurant but was easily out maneuvered by Speaker of the House Thomas Rainey (D-Il.).


The effort to end Jim Crow at that time was unsuccessful.


John L. Lewis was an American leader of organized labor who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) from 1920 to 1960.


He was the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which established the United Steel Workers of America and helped organize millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s.


After resigning as head of the CIO in 1941, he took the Mine Workers out of the CIO in 1942 and in 1944 took the union into the American Federation of Labor (AFL).


A leading liberal, he played a major role in helping Franklin D. Roosevelt win a landslide in 1936, but as an isolationist, broke with Roosevelt in 1940 on FDR's anti-Nazi foreign policy.


Lewis was a brutally effective and aggressive fighter and strike leader who gained high wages for his membership while steamrolling over his opponents, including the United States government.


His massive leonine head, forest-like eyebrows, firmly set jaw, powerful voice and ever-present scowl thrilled his supporters, angered his enemies, and delighted cartoonists. Coal miners for 40 years hailed him as their leader, whom they credited with bringing high wages, pensions and medical benefits.


For a detailed blog post on the fight to end Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol public restaurants, see


For related images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is a Harris and Ewing photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Call Number: LC-H22- D-1643 [P&P]

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Taken on June 7, 1937