Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Equal Rights Congress Founded

First Published: Equal Rights Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The founding convention of the Equal Rights Congress was held under the overwhelming spirit of unity on Labor Day Weekend in Chicago.

There were 71 organizations represented in 30 cities. It was a true convention of the different movements of the nationalities, women’s and youth. It reflected the increasing awareness and the mounting fightback on the part of the masses in this country who are fighting to preserve their livelihood and hard-won rights.

The Congress was started with a welcoming speech by Mrs. Bertha Baylark of the Chicago Equal Rights Council. Then Antonio Orendain, President of the Texas Farmworkers Union, gave a startling presentation in which he emphasized how mankind has the right to work and the right to procure the necessities of life. In order to do this he has to overcome all kind of barriers such as crossing political borders and forming organizations such as unions. He stressed the importance of forming a large umbrella organization such as the Equal Rights Congress because it creates the conditions for a united struggle.

Orendain was followed by Bessie Lou Cornett of the Harlan Labor News in Harlan County, Kentucky. She spoke about the conditions that the miners are subjected to in Appalachia and about the organizing activities of the Kit Klux Klan who are agents of the coal miners.

The keynote address was delivered by Percy Edmund, a trade union militant, who has a long history of struggling in the United Steelworkers of America, the Old Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, the Civil Rights Congress, and in the Civil Rights movement. He elaborated on the importance of uniting the Labor Movement and the various movements for Equal Rights. He stressed that if nothing else this is the central link that can pull the chain forward.

Various workshops were held on different topics such as: police brutality, housing, tenants unions, deportations, education, busing and other pertinent subjects where the various organizations were able to share and assimilate their various experiences. Resolutions were adopted along with a Constitution, by-laws and the election of officers.

Fourteen officers were elected to the National Steering Committee. The national officers are: Marbell Raines of Idlewild, Michigan; Nacho Gonzales – Co-Chairperson of Los Angeles; Dorothy Barret – Corresponding Secretary of the Detroit Tenants Union; Mary Ann Connor – Recording Secretary of Birmingham, Alabama; Nel Hollie – Treasurer of the Northside Tenants Union, Minneapolis; John Chapella from the Navajo Nation; Irv Wainer – Philadelphia Equal Rights Committee; Paulina Hayes, International Treaty Rights Organization; Antonio Orendain of the Texas Farmworkers Union; Santiago Tapia Anaya – La Alianza Federal de los Mercedes; Percy Edmund – San Francisco; Lillie Barnes – Delta Equal Rights Council, Mississippi; Bessie Lou Cornett – Harlan Labor News.

The plenary session also passed unanimously a motion to have a national demonstration sometime next summer, maybe on June 19th, the anniversary of the freeing of the slaves in the western territories.

The Conference culminated with a cultural event that featured the singing of Reverend Iberus Hacker of the Old Country Church, Homesick James and Rob Backus and the Struggle Band.

The founding of the Equal Rights Congress is an historic occasion, for now we have an organization that represents under one banner such varied movements of the minorities. Now we have the basis to begin to march together hand-in-hand as one mighty army for the equality of all.