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AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Southeastern Office records

Identifier: L1986-01

Scope and Contents of the Records

AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Southeastern Office records, 1969-1983, consist of press releases, educational materials, publications, and correspondence. The Southeastern office covered the states of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Southeastern Office also dealt with the Atlanta Labor Council, the A Phillip Randolph Institute, the Urban League, and the Advanced Southern Labor School.


  • Creation: 1969-1983


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research use.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Georgia State University is the owner of the physical collection and makes reproductions available for research, subject to the copyright law of the United States and item condition. Georgia State University may or may not own the rights to materials in the collection. It is the researcher's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and obtain permission from the copyright holder before publication, reproduction, or display of the materials beyond what is reasonable under copyright law. Researchers may quote selections from the collection under the fair use provision of copyright law.

History of the AFL-CIO Department of Civil Rights, Southern Region

Shortly after the merger in 1955, the AFL-CIO set up a Department of Civil Rights under the direction of Boris Shishkin. From 1965 to 1969 Don Slaiman headed the department followed by William E. Pollard in 1970. The AFL-CIO also had a standing committee on civil rights. This committee was headed successively by Charles S. Zimmerman (1957-1961), William Schnitzler (1961-1967), and Fred O'Neal (1969-[1985]). The committee membership included representatives from AFL-CIO unions. Don Slaiman, E.T. Kehrer, William E. Pollard, Robert McGlotten, and Doris Gibson Hardesty provided staff services to the committee.

During the early years of the AFL-CIO, the Civil Rights Department and the Civil Rights Committee did relatively little toward eliminating practices of exclusion in union policies. The national organization's position changed after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On January 1, 1965, the Southern Area Civil Rights Department was established in response to a need for a staff specialist in civil rights in the region. Later that year the southern office opened in Atlanta under the direction of E.T. "Al" Kehrer. The states served by this office included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Elmer T. Kehrer was born on a farm near Brighton, Michigan, in 1921. He grew up in Detroit during an active period of union organization in the auto industry. During World War II he served in the Maritime Service as a Purser-Pharmacist on an oil tanker in the Pacific war zone. In 1947 he received his A.B. degree from Olivet College in Michigan and his M.A. in economics from Yale University in 1948. He started with the unions in 1936 when he became a student organizer for the United Auto Workers. In 1944 he did field work in Los Angeles for the Ship's Clerk Association, and in 1948 he became a field representative for the Workers Education Bureau of the AFL specializing in setting up human relations programs. In 1950 he was instrumental in founding and serving as director of the ILGWU's Officers Training Institute, the first year-round labor educational program to develop full-time union officials. In 1953 Kehrer accepted the position of ILGWU's Southeastern Regional Director in Atlanta. He remained in that position until he became the Southern Director for the AFL-CIO's Civil Rights Department in 1965.

Kehrer's work in the Civil Rights Department focused mainly on facilitating the addition of minority and women workers to work forces represented by unions. In addition to advocating the employment of minorities, this effort also involved encouraging unions, government agencies, and employers to provide job training and to develop and follow affirmative action guidelines. He paid particular attention to increasing black participation in the building trades. Evidence of this type of activity can be found in Kehrer's work with major federal construction projects such as the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Kings Bay Submarine Base.

Kehrer's responsibilities also called for forging coalitions among agencies, civil rights groups and labor organizations. He worked with the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC), the Southern Regional Council and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Among other things, he assisted in the development and processing of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints. Kehrer served as the Labor Coordinator for the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and in 1985 repeated that role for the 20th anniversary march. In 1966 Kehrer helped to form and served as an officer of the Georgia Democratic Party Forum and the Ellis Arnall Write-In Campaign, efforts aimed at electing a slate of loyalist national Democrats as delegates to the 1968 Democratic National Convention and electing former Governor Ellis Arnall as governor of Georgia. In 1970 Kehrer served as the chairman of the first planning committee for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration.

In addition to very heavy official duties, Kehrer was also active in his community, in politics, and in the Presbyterian Church. He served in leadership capacities in the following organizations: Southern Regional Council, Workers Defense League, National Joint Council on Economic Education, Georgia Manpower Area Planning Council, Tennessee-Tombigbee Affirmative Action Coordinating Committee, Southern Coalition for Full Employment, Atlanta Area Justice for J.P. Stevens Workers, Georgia Citizens for the Arts, Organized Labor-Workmen's Circle Labor Awards Committee, Georgia Women's Diversion Committee, East Coast Farmworkers Support Network, Resurgens Atlanta, and the Georgia Democratic Party. He also worked with other organizations including: Presbyterian Consultation on World Hunger and Development, Presbyterian Task Force on U.S. System of Justice, Industrial Relations Research Association, Workmen's Circle, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, League for Industrial Democracy, NAACP, Atlanta Urban League, Georgia Coalition on Hunger, Southeastern Advisory Council on the American Red Cross, and the Georgia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.


4.4 Linear Feet (in 11 boxes)

Language of Materials



AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Southeastern Office records, 1969-1983, consist of press releases, educational materials, publications, and correspondence. Shortly after the merger in 1955, the AFL-CIO set up a Civil Rights Department, which was designed to investigate various fields of civil rights activity.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by E.T. Kehrer, January 14, 1986.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff at the file level. Collection was digitized as part of the "Advancing Workers Rights in the American South: Digitizing the Records of the AFL-CIO's Civil Rights Division" project, supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation.

AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Southeastern Office:
A Guide to the Records at Georgia State University Library
Hal Hansen
March 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-413-2881 (Fax)