Becoming Mama Maida

Maida Springer in New York City and Africa
  • Patricia A. Schechter
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


If Puerto Rico passed as a state at the World’s Fair “Court of States,” so too did Liberia perform—or fail to perform—nation-statehood in a range of US venues, like the Columbian Exposition back in 1893.1 Liberia cancelled its participation in the New York World’s Fair of 1939–1940, its pavilion sited, tentatively, in the US “government area” of the fairgrounds. The Liberian legislature’s request to the Firestone Corporation to float bonds to fund a stand-alone exhibit was declined by the company. Deeming the expense “out of proportion with the importance and world position of Liberia,” Firestone declared that monies so raised “could be much better spent at home than at the New York World’s Fair.”2 Entrenched in Liberia since the 1920s, the company made profitability in its rubber plantations a priority.3 In New York, Firestone represented Liberia not as a nation but as a “jungle hinterland” where the company’s “extensive plantations” were located and through which visitors walked on their way to the “modern tire factory” installed at their exhibit.4 Firestone’s neocolonial posture found support in Liberian president William V. S. Tubman’s economic “Open Door Policy,” a policy echoed in Governor Luis Muñoz Marin’s “Operation Bootstrap” for Puerto Rico in the postwar period. Free-trade enthusiasm and heightened commerce—economic, intellectual, and political—between New York, Puerto Rico, and west Africa provide the context for Maida Springer’s peak years of postwar international labor activism, work that met a sobering conclusion in Liberia in 1965.


York City Labor Movement Oral History African Woman Rubber Plantation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Carol Bowen Johnson, “World’s Fair Letter,” The Independent (July 20, 1893): 977. Exhibition of Objects Illustrating the History and Condition of the Republic of Liberia, exhibition catalogue March 23 to April 4, 1914 (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1914).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Yevette Richards, “African and African-American Labor Leaders in the Struggle over International Affiliation,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 31 (1998) 2: 301–334; Yevette Richards, “Race, Gender, and Anticommunism in the International Labor Movement: The Pan-African Connections of Maida Springer,” Journal of Women’s History 11 (1999): 35–36; Yevette Richards, Maida Springer: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000); Brigid O’Farrell and Joyce L. Kornbluh, “We Did Change Some Attitudes: Maida Springer-Kemp and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 23 (Spring-Summer 1995)1: 41–70; John Charles Stoner, “Anti-Communism, Anti-Colonialism, and African Labor: the AFL-CIO in Africa, 1955–1975,” PhD diss., Columbia University, 2001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    Penny M. Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism,1937-1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 78–79. See also Leila J. Rupp, “Challenging Imperialism in International Women’s Organizations, 1888–1945,” NWSA Journal 8 (Spring 1996) 1: 8–27. Rupp notes that World War II almost com-pletely severed interwar feminist connections. Lisa G. Materson, “African American Women’s Global Journeys and the Construction of Cross-Ethnic Racial Identity,” Women’s Studies International Forum 32 (January 2009)1: 35–42.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Robert Shaffer, “Multicultural Education in New York City during World War II,” New York History 77 (July 1996)3: 301–332. See also Charles Dorn, “‘I Had All Kinds of Kids in My Classes, and It Was Fine’: Public Schooling in Richmond, California, During World War II,” History of Education Quarterly 45 (2006) 4: 538564, and Benjamin L. Alpers, “This Is the Army: Imagining a Democratic Military in World War II,” Journal of American History 85 (June 1998) 1: 129–163. On racial assumptions in the founding of the United Nations (on the British side) see Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). In general see Everett Helmut Akam, Transnational America: Cultural Pluralist Thought in the Twentieth Century (Lanham, MD: Littleman Rowfield, 2002), 102–108 and 162–164.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Most influential in my thinking have been essays in Catherine M. Cole, Takyiwaa Manuh, and Stephen Miescher, eds., Africa after Gender? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn and Andrea Benton Rushing, eds., Women in Africa and the African Diaspora: A Reader (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Richard Wright, “Forward,” in George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa ([1956] Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1972), xxii.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle For Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004); Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). Kinship and family are more prominent in Deborah Gray White, “‘YES,’ There Is a Black Atlantic,” Itinerario 23 (1999) 2: 127–140 as isgender in Michelle Ann Stephens, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  8. 42.
    E. Iglauer, “Housekeeping for the Family of Nations,” Harper’s Magazine 194 (April 1947): 295–306; Adelai E. Stevenson, “United Nations: Capital of the Family of Man,” National Geographic 120 (September 1961): 297–303; P. G. Beltran, “American Family of Nations,” Vital Speeches of the Day 25 (November 1, 1958)Google Scholar
  9. 78.
    CesarJ. Ayala and Raphael Bernabe, Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 232. See also David Dubinsky, “Turning Point for Puerto Rico,” Free Trade Union News (April 1956): 3. On union social welfare on the island, see “P.R. Hurricane Aid” (October 1, 1960): 5; “Puerto Rican First,” Justice (January 15, 1957): 10; “ILGWU Housing Funds for Puerto Rico,” and “Lauds Union’s Investment in Puerto Rican Homes”(June 1, 1957): 1, 3; “Bra Workers in Puerto Rico Win Rise, Welfare ‘Package’” (June 1, 1957): 4; “Puerto Rico Workers Throng to Get ILG-Sponsored Homes” (June 1, 1857): 4, in Justice.Google Scholar
  10. 105.
    Nancy L. Green, “Blacks, Jews, and the ‘Natural Alliance’: Labor Cohabitation and the ILGWU,” Jewish Social Studies 4 (1997) 1: 79–104. A more critical look is Alan Wald, “Narrating Nationalisms: Black Marxism and Jewish Communists through the Eyes of Harold Cruse,” in Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth Century Literature of the United States, ed. Bill V. Mullen and James Smethurst (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 140–162. See also Jesse Thomas Moore Jr., A Search for Equality: The National Urban League, 1910–1961 (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1981), 94–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 118.
    George Padmore, How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire: A Challenge to the Imperialist Powers (London: Dennis Dobson Limited, 1946), xi, 136.Google Scholar
  12. 124.
    Tamba E. M’Bayo, “W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Pan-Africanism in Liberia, 1919–1924,” Historian 66 (2004)1: 19–44; Emily S. Rosenberg, “The Invisible Protectorate: The United States, Liberia, and the Evolution of Neocolonialism, 1909–40,” Diplomatic History 9 (1985)3: 191–214. On Du Bois in Liberia, see “Liberia: Progress” (March 31, 1924), and “Liberia: Envoy Extraordinary” (February 18, 1924), both in Time at,9171,717749,00.html and,9171,718094,00.html viewed July 14, 2010. See also James T. Campbell, Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787–2005, (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), chapter 6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 161.
    Maida Springer, “Progress and Problems of Gold Coast Unions,” Free Trade Union News (June 1956): 6, 7; and Springer, “West Africa in Transition,” Free Trade Union News (April 1956): 8.Google Scholar
  14. 189.
    Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson and Amos Sawyer, “Labour in Liberia,” Review of African Political Economy, 14 (April 1979): 3–4. Barbara Wagner, “Labor Unions in the Liberian State and Politics,” Liberia-Forum 4 (1988)6: 33–44. “Fourth Strike Hits Rubber Plantation,” September 29, 1961; “Serious Talks to Be Held Soon,” September 27, 1961; “Tubman Names Special Body to Probe Labor Grievances,” September 1961, untitled clippings, possibly the Monrovia Listener, in Claude Barnett Research Collection, Africana Collection, Melville J. Herskovits Library, Northwestern University.Google Scholar
  15. 190.
    Russell U. McLaughlin, Foreign Investment and Development in Liberia (New York: Praeger, 1966), 105. U.S. Department of Labor, Labor in Liberia (May 1960): 15, asserted: “No active trade unions are in existence in Liberia.” U.S. Department of Commerce, Establishing a Business in Liberia (vol. 62–53, part 1, 1962):14, noted: “Two unions are operating in Liberia” (CIO and LCL). The American Embassy in Monrovia finally acknowledged, “Confrontation between management and labor, and sometimes government, in response to specific labor demands occurs with increasing frequency,” Nancy Rawls, Establishing a Business in Liberia (Washington, DC: Department of Commerce Bureau of International Commerce, 1966): 9.Google Scholar
  16. 192.
    Arthur J. Knoll, “Firestone’s Labor Policy, 1924–1939,” Liberian Studies Journal 16 (1991)2: 49–75.Google Scholar
  17. 213.
    Heather J. Stecklein, “Workers’ Control and Militancy in an Iowa Labor Movement: The Use of Wildcat Strikes at the Des Moines Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, 1950–1959,” Annals of Iowa 64 (2005) 3: 246–265.Google Scholar
  18. 221.
    Carl E. Meacham, “Peace Corps Service in Liberia, 1965–66: Reflections of an African American Volunteer,” Liberian Studies Journal 15 (1990) 1: 94. Bayo Lawal, “Double-Consciousness and the Homecoming of African Americans: Building Cultural Bridges in West Africa,” in The United States and West Africa.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Patricia A. Schechter 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia A. Schechter

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations