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Labor Organizer Mary Moultrie Passes
Published:
4/29/2015 4:50:18 PM


Mary Moultrie standing at 1969 Hospital Strike historical marker site
 

Mary Moultrie (center) leading the 1969 MUSC worker strike stemming from systemic racial discrimination at the hospital
 
By Barney Blakeney

 
Charleston labor union organizer Mary Moultrie passed away at her home April 27 after a lengthy illness. She was 73.
  
Ms. Moultrie rose to public recognition in 1969 as an organizer of the Charleston hospital strike that year. A nurse’s assistant at what was then the Medical College of South Carolina, Moultrie was a champion for better pay and working conditions for Black employees at the institution. She later went on to work 30 years for the City of Charleston Department of Recreation and retired in 2005.
  
The eldest of four children born to Dennis and Mable Moultrie, she attended Avery Normal School and was a 1960 Burke High School graduate who grew up in the west side ‘Back the Green’ community on Hagood Avenue.
  
As a teenager she worked for the late civil rights activist, Esau Jenkins. Working at Jenkins’ J&P Restaurant exposed Moultrie to much of what Jenkins advocated -  the rights of Blacks. It was that exposure which groomed her for the role she would portray later.
  
After graduating Burke High, Moultrie attended Morgan State College in Baltimore, Md. After only one semester of college, Moultrie left for New York City where she began working as a nurse.
  
She spent eight years in New York, but never considered the city her home and often returned to Charleston to visit Family. She moved back to Charleston in late 1967.

“There was a lot of discrimination against Blacks,” she said reflecting on her pre-strike employment after her retirement from the city. Nurse’s aide's who were predominantly Black in those days were extremely underpaid and were subject to the whims of their white superiors who often were much younger and less experienced.
 
“One thing that really got on my nerves was that we were made to train white nursing students who could influence whether or not we had a job. If they didn’t like you, they could get you fired,” Moultrie said.
 
In early 1969 after five Black nurse’s aide's were unjustly fired and subsequently reinstated, Moultrie along with several of her colleagues sought to establish a hospital workers association.
 
The goal was not to establish a union, since the state does not recognize employee unions. But hospital authorities refused even to talk with the Black nurses. What ensued was a 113-day strike wherein Black employees at the Medical College and Charleston County Hospital walked off their jobs.
 
The strike gained national attention and the workers received assistance from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Local 1199-B hospital workers Union in New York.
  
Eventually hospital authorities met with the workers and negotiated an agreement that increased workers’ wages, improved working conditions and established a grievance procedures. But no union. Though working conditions improved after the strike concluded, , most of the gains were short-lived, Moultrie said. Seven years after the strike, Moultrie left the hospital to work for the City of Charleston.

More recently Moultrie worked to organize Charleston sanitation workers. Committee On Better Racial Assurance CEO William ‘Bill’ Saunders said Moultrie was a motivating speaker who could make people listen and follow her because she always put everything she had on the line.

At the time of her death Moultrie was writing a book about her involvement in the hospital strike of 1969 in which she hoped to expose some little known facts about its coordination and what led to its conclusion.

Moultrie is survived by a daughter, Arnise Moultrie of Columbia; a sister, Angie Daniels (Gordon); a brother, Raymond Moultrie;, two nieces; a nephew; a grand niece; and three grand nephews.
 

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