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Black Firefighters and the FDNYThe Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City$
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David Goldberg

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469633626

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469633626.001.0001

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Fighting a Good Fight

Fighting a Good Fight

The Formation of the Vulcan Society, 1932–1945

(p.75) Three Fighting a Good Fight
Black Firefighters and the FDNY

David Goldberg

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines how Black working-class activism and the political ascendancy of Fiorello La Guardia created a small window of opportunity to join the FDNY that was seized by a small number of Black New Yorkers during the late 1930s and early 1940s. While relatively small, this influx of Black firefighters sparked racial backlash from the department’s overwhelming white majority, which attempted to formally institutionalize racism and racial segregation within the department. To combat this, New York’s Black firefighters formed the nation’s first Black firefighters’ organization, The Vulcan Society, in the early 1940s. The group emerged out of, and was a part of, the Black working-class oriented Black united front that developed in New York during the 1930s and early 1940s. Like similar Black labor organizations of the time, the Vulcan Society joined workplace and community-based struggles, and successfully mobilized to prevent the formal segregation of the FDNY.

Keywords:   Vulcan Society, Wesley Williams, Racial segregation in the workplace, Fiorello LaGuardia and race, Civil service reform, Double Victory, Civil rights unionism, Black working-class activism (1930s & 1940s), New York’s Black united front, Benjamin Davis

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