Lawrence Watkins: What Labor Day Should Mean to Black People

An African-American worker. What does labor day mean to us? © Jose Manuel Gelpi –

Labor Day is viewed as the last long weekend to enjoy the company of friends before the end of summer. Just like many other things that we take for granted now, Labor Day began as a holiday for American workers to gain relief from the harsh working conditions they lived under during the middle of the Industrial Revolution. As I reflect on Labor Day and the importance of black labor in building this country, two things come to mind. First, from a historical perspective, we are among one of the first generations of blacks that can do what they love and still make a living doing so. Second, people making up the “labor” have always been less valued than those individuals who are owners.

Make sure you are not only a laborer forever — set out to own valuable assets as well. My goal with this essay is to give a history of how black labor contributed to the early building of the United States, so we can appreciate where we came from; but let’s never forget the potential of where we can go as wealth builders — not just paid workers.

Slavery in America

Slavery can be traced back many thousands of years. Dr. David P. Forsythe states in one of his works that “at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.” This is a startling number. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this free labor was America.


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