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James F. Barrett papers

Identifier: L1997-05

Scope and Content of the Papers

The collection consists of files related to AFL national officers, state federations, activity reports, organizing campaigns, and subject and name files.


  • 1920, 1937-1959


Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

To quote in print, or otherwise reproduce in whole or in part in any publication, including on the Worldwide Web, any material from this collection, the researcher must obtain permission from (1) the owner of the physical property and (2) the holder of the copyright. Persons wishing to quote from this collection should consult the reference archivist to determine copyright holders for information in this collection. Reproduction of any item must contain the complete citation to the original. All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.
Oversized Materials stored offsite. Contact archivist in advance to view these materials; 24-hour notice is required.

Biography of James F. Barrett

James Festus ("Uncle Jim") Barrett, (1882-1959), retired as publicity director for the American Federation of Labor in 1949. His union activities link the AFL's early days with the heated rivalry between that organization and the militant Congress of Industrial Organizations that began in 1937 and ended with the merger of the two groups in December of 1955.

Barrett's parents were sharecroppers in the mountains of western North Carolina. Despite the challenges of his youth, Barrett managed to finish school. He attended Washington College in eastern Tennessee, where he worked in the college's small printing office to pay his tuition. Barrett drove a bread wagon in Asheville for two years after he graduated in 1900.

In 1902, Barrett found a job at the Asheville Gazette. Five years later he completed his apprenticeship and became a journeyman printer. He joined the Typographical Union immediately, and served as a linotype operator and composing room foreman of The Asheville Citizen.

Barrett was named a delegate to the Asheville Central Labor Union a few months after joining the typographers' organization. The members of his local elected Barrett president, and in 1909 he was chosen to head the Central Labor Union.

AFL President Samuel Gompers enlisted Barrett to campaign for child labor reforms and for the adoption of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. In May of 1917, he began work for the federal labor department as a liaison between the Wilson Administration and labor unions that represented workers at companies with defense contracts. The administration often used Barrett to undermine support for the Socialist Party, which opposed American involvement in the World War I. "You cannot be a rank, red socialist and a good union man at the same time now," Barrett often said.

With the conclusion of the war, Barrett reentered newspaper work as publisher of the Asheville Labor Advocate and the Charlotte Labor Herald. He also served as a member of the board for the North Carolina School for the Deaf for 12 years.

Beginning in 1937, Barrett, as AFL publicity director in the South, spearheaded the organization's campaigns against the insurgent CIO. AFL President William Green enlisted Barrett in 1940 to lead the AFL's bitter but successful battle with the CIO's Newspaper Guild in Chicago at The Herald-American.

During World War II, Green assigned Barrett to the Treasury Department to promote the purchase of War Bonds. Barrett proved instrumental in setting up a payroll deduction plan that allowed workers to buy billions of dollars worth of the bonds. Barrett resigned from the federal government in 1943, an event that caused confusion and eventually found its way to AFL President Green's desk.

Barrett returned to the AFL as an organizer and Southern publicity director. He organized several large AFL conferences. The most significant of them occurred in Asheville in May of 1946 where the Federation announced its own Southern organizing campaign to thwart the CIO's Operation Dixie. Barrett also coordinated an AFL organizing drive among atomic workers at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Barrett retired in September of 1949. He continued his labor activities, helping with organizing drives and publicity in the Asheville area until his death in October of 1959. "It has been a hard life," Barrett said, "but enjoyable because of the good that has been accomplished for the men and women who work for wages and for their children."


6.8 Linear Feet (in 7 boxes)

Language of Materials



James Festus Barrett (1882-1959) was a union activist for the American Federation of Labor. His papers, 1920, 1937-1959, consist of files related to AFL national officers, state federations, activity reports, organizing campaigns, and subject and name files.

Off-Site Storage

Oversized Materials stored offsite. Contact archivist in advance to view these materials; 24-hour notice is required.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dr. L.J. Peacock, July 1997.

Separated Materials

During processing, materials were separated to other Southern Labor Archives Collections. For photographs, see the Southern Labor Archives Photographs Collection finding aid. For oversized materials, consult Special Collections for access.

Separated to the Southern Labor Archives Photographs Collection

  1. This collection contains 79 photographs, with 41 identified or partially identified, and 33 images are not identified. The Barrett Papers contain five (5) oversized and/or extra-oversized photographs.

Processing Information

Inventoried by Robert Dinwiddie, Anne Tilden, and Robert Woodrum at the file level, December 1997.
James F. Barrett:
A Guide to His Papers at Georgia State University
Georgia State University Library
December 1997
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • June 2001: EAD finding aid created by Apex Data Services.
  • 2003: EAD edited by Morna Gerrard.
  • 2007: EAD edited by William Hardesty.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

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