Terrence Powderly: 1849-1924
Terrence Vincent Powderly was an Irish-American politician and labor union leader, best known as head of the Knights of Labor in the late 1880s. A lawyer, he was elected mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania for six years. A Republican, he served as the United States Commissioner General of immigration in 1897.

The Knights of Labor was one of the largest American labor organizations of the 19th century, but Powderly was a poor administrator and could barely keep it under control. His small central office could not supervise or coordinate the many strikes and other activities sponsored by union locals. Powderly saw the Knights as an educational tool to uplift the workingman, and he downplayed strikes.

Powderly led the Knights to a membership that was upwards of 800,000 and included both African Americans and women, although many lodges in the U.S. South were segregated.

In their most famous stance against Jim Crow, Powderly agreed that an African American would take the stage to address the Knights’ 10th Convention held in Richmond, Virginia in 1886.

Powderly was introduced to the convention by Frank J. Farrell, an influential African American delegate from the Knights District Assembly No. 49 from New York.

In turn, Powderly introduced the governor of Virginia Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

While such an action today would cause no stir, it outraged the white supremacists in Virginia and throughout the South.

The Knights influence was short lived, but many members were introduced to unionism through the Knights and went on to affiliate their lodges or join the growing American Federation of Labor.

Powderly lost an election in 1893 as the Knights were in decline and moved to Washington, D.C. where he resided in the Rock Creek Church Road home until his death in 1924.
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