Black women, especially in urban areas, immediately asserted their status as free workers at the end of the Civil War. Many left the people who had once enslaved them and demanded fair wages and decent working conditions in any new job they took. If an employer failed to meet their standards, they quit and sought another opportunity. This assertiveness angered white employers. As a result, Black women workers were subjected to increasingly violent efforts to oppress them. But they continued to find strength and solidarity in their communities and worked tirelessly to improve their financial situations and position in the U.S. economy.
In 1866, only a year after the end of the Civil War, the Black laundry workers of Jackson, Mississippi, went on strike. The laundry workers earned very low wages for their backbreaking work. They wanted to be able to make enough to support their families. The laundry workers understood that white households depended on their services. They knew that if they stood together then they could secure a fair and standard wage for every laundry worker in the city.
Laundry workers from all over the city met to discuss the situation. After the meeting, they wrote this letter to the mayor of Jackson, outlining their complaints and demands. The letter was printed in the Jackson Daily Clarion newspaper. The newspaper called the strike “ill-timed, unfortunate, and calculated to injure instead of bettering their condition.” The newspaper’s critical and dismissive tone was typical of white attitudes towards Black workers in the Reconstruction era. Unfortunately, there is no surviving record of the outcome of the strike. However, this remarkable action inspired laundry workers in other cities to unite to fight for better wages in the decades to come.