Kenny Riley and Black Union Labor Power in the Port of Charleston

Their ancestors may have been cargo in the slave ships that arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. Today, the scale has been rebalanced: black longshoremen run the port’s cargo operation. They are members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, a powerful labor union, and Kenny Riley is the charismatic leader of the Charleston local. Riley combines commitment to the civil rights movement with the practicality to ensure that Charleston remains a principal East Coast port. He emerged on the international stage in 2000, rallying union members worldwide to the defense of “The Charleston Five,” longshoremen arrested after a confrontation with police turned violent. This is Riley’s story as well as a behind-the-scenes look at organized black labor in a Deep South port.

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