Welcome to the George Meany Archives

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) established the George Meany Memorial Archives in 1980 to honor the memory of George Meany, its first president, and to provide a program to preserve its historical records and make them available for research. In 1987 the archives moved from the AFL-CIO headquarters to the forty-seven acre campus of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies in Silver Spring, Maryland, an educational institution for labor officers, representatives, and staff of AFL-CIO affiliates.

Descriptive Inventory


When the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (FOTLU) was organized in 1881, its constitution provided for the annual election of a Legislative Committee that would supervise the organization. FOTLU had two chief aims: organizing workers and supporting the passage of legislation recognizing the rights of workers. The organization’s constitution provided for the separate election of a federation secretary, who would serve as secretary of the committee and act as a chief executive officer of the federation. That year W.H. Foster won the seat of secretary and the remaining members of the committee included Richard Powers, Samuel Gompers, Charles F. Burgman, and Alex C. Rankin. In 1883 the Legislative Committee was expanded to nine, consisting of the President, First through Sixth Vice-Presidents, a Secretary and a Treasurer.

In 1886 FOTLU at its sixth annual session voted to merge itself with the American Federation of Labor, then holding its first annual convention. The constitution called for the following executive officers: a president, two vice-presidents, a secretary and a treasurer. The new organization’s constitution also provided for an Executive Council which would bear responsibility for organizing workers and pushing for such legislation as the convention directed. Since that time, the executive structure of the AFL, with minor adjustments, has remained the same: the president and secretary (later secretary-treasurer) serving as chief executive officers, the executive council exercising the powers of the convention during the time between the meetings of the convention, and the annual (later semi-annual) conventions electing officers and voting on broad policy guidelines.


William Green, the second president of the AFL, was born in Coshocton, Ohio, on March 3, 1873. With eight years of formal education, Green followed his father into the coal mines at the age of sixteen. By 1891 he had become active in union activities serving first as secretary of the Coshocton Progressive Miners Union (later a local of the United Mine Workers Union) and subsequently moving upward in the UMWA organization from district officer in 1900 to international secretary-treasurer, 1912 to 1924. Shortly after beginning his tenure as UMWA secretary-treasurer, Green won a position on the AFL executive council and in 1924 became president following the death of Samuel Gompers. Green held that position until his own death on November 21, 1952.

William Green supported the labor movement in the political arena as well as within the UMWA and AFL organizations. He served two terms in the Ohio senate from 1910 to 1913 where he wrote the state’s workmen’s compensation act; he represented labor at international labor conferences following the end of World War I; and he worked with various presidential committees and boards during the New Deal, World War II, and the Korean War.


This collection consists of two records series (Series 1: Government Boards, Agencies, and Departments and Series 2: National and International Union Correspondence). These records were originally included in the records transferred to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in the mid-1950s but were returned to the AFL-CIO in 1967 upon the request of the federation. Both series are duplicated on microfilm produced by the AFL-CIO: Series 1 appears on reels 1 and 2, Micro 07; Series 2 appears on reel 23, Micro 23.

About George Meany

George Meany was the creator of the U.S. labor movement. Born in New York City on August 16, 1894, Meany was a union plumber by trade, and proud of it. During his lifetime, this plumber became one of the most accomplished men in the world. Few ever did, or will, make such constructive contributions to the quality of life, living, and working in this country.

During the Meany years, the AFL-CIO became an effective, driving champion of the rights of the oppressed and the needy. He was an outspoken defender of individual freedom. The AFL-CIO he headed was the driving force behind national policies for social change, and improved employment conditions in America attest to the success of those efforts.

George Meany made notable contributions to the growth of American unions. He played a vital and commanding role in the merger of the Congress of Industrial Organizations¬†and the American Federation of Labor. This was his signal achievement, and by acclamation, a grateful merged labor movement named him president of the newly-created AFL-CIO. As his successor Lane Kirkland said: “The merger was not a climax, but just a beginning of George Meany’s greatest years of service.” This is attested by the fact that the 13th AFL-CIO convention named Meany president emeritus for life.

George Meany was proud of the Labor Studies Center, the site of the George Meany Memorial Archives. In the sunset of his life, he spent many Sunday afternoons, often accompanied by members of his family, strolling the campus of the Center. Meany died on January 10, 1980 at the age of 85 and is buried at Gate of Heavens in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Labor’s Heritage

Back issues of Labor’s Heritage, 1989-2004, may be purchased at the National Labor College bookstore. Call 1-888-427-8100. Click here for a complete list of available back issues.

Activity: A. Philip Randolph: Civil Rights and Labor Leader

Asa Philip Randolph’s (1889-1979) mass action strategy — based on the Ghandian principle of nonviolent direct action — spearheaded modern civil rights activism in the United States. The last and greatest mass demonstration he sponsored, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was the largest protest for racial equality. Randolph’s devotion to trade unionism helped shape his perspective on civil rights that racial freedom required parallel economic progress. His life was a passionate struggle to achieve the linked goals of racial and economic justice. To learn more about Randolph, consult these resources:

  • Anderson, Jervis., A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait. New York, 1973.
  • Hanley, Sally., A. Philip Randolph. (Black Americans of Achievement series.) New York, 1989.
  • Pfeffer, Paula F., A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. Louisiana, 1990.

    Primary Material:
  • Randolph’s personal papers are deposited in the Library of Congress.

Randolph speaks on labor and civil rights:

    At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.

    –Date and place unknown

    Civil rights represents democracy and democracy represents civil rights. No individual in a state is a full citizen of that state unless he has the attributes of citizenship, and the attributes of citizenship are involved in civil rights and civil liberties…. Therefore, the labor movement, representing great masses of workers, has the moral responsibility for its commitment to the principle of civil rights.

    –Address to the 1957 convention, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Discuss Randolph’s words in the first quote above. Given his mass action strategy, what did Randolph advocate that participants in the civil rights and labor movements “take” and “hold”? In his reference to “organization,” what does he mean? Is organization within the civil rights movement similar to organization within the labor movement? If so, how? If not, how does it differ?

Create local and community history:

  • Conduct oral/video interviews with relatives, family friends, teachers, ministers, or community residents who were active in the civil rights or labor movements. In what types of protests (e.g., marches, sit-ins, strikes, boycotts, etc.) were they involved? Which action do they think had the biggest impact on our laws at the local, state, and national level? Which action immediately changed people’s behavior or attitudes? How was the change noticeable?
  • Research your community’s history by visiting your library, archives, historical society, and museums. Present the results of your research — including your oral/video interviews — in the form of a panel discussion, report, exhibit, skit, Web page, radio broadcast, or other ways that will reach the public.

ACTIVITY: Group discussion. OBJECTIVES: Students will be able to: 1) work collectively toward a common goal; and 2) explore the limitations and advantages of different mass action methods.

Civil rights in the 21st century:

Using Randolph’s 1957 quote as a guide, brainstorm* to generate a list of words/phrases to define civil rights in the 21st century. Then discuss how to plan a virtual march by responding to the same questions posed in the role-play activity: What will you do? How will you achieve your goal(s)? Who will you involve? Compare strategies used in the role-play with those required for cyberspace, noting differences/similarities in objectives, mass action methods, and audience. Can a cyberspace march result in social change? If so, how? If not, why?

*How to brainstorm: set a time limit; respond one at a time; respond quickly, in a few words; think of as many ideas as you can; do not explain or evaluate ideas during the limited time; write ideas on the blackboard or a flip chart; at the end of the time limit, or after ideas have been exhausted, evaluate the list; combine, then prioritize ideas (e.g., which are most important?).

Activity: Protest for Social Change

Photo from the George Meany Memorial Archives

Petition for Integrated Schools, 1959.

In September 1958, Daisy Bates, Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Jackie Robinson, and Roy Wilkins launched the Youth March for Integrated Schools. Twelve thousand young people poured into Washington, D.C. on October 25 and marched down Constitution Avenue to the Lincoln Memorial where they pledged to return in 1959 bearing petitions to the President and Congress urging the speedy integration of schools. The petition call to youth asked that “wherever you may be…come to Washington on April 18, 1959, and join your presence and your voice in a mighty affirmation of equal rights and equal education.”

Pathfinders Child Labor


The purpose of this pathfinder is to provide researchers with a guide to records at the George Meany Memorial Archives related to child labor. The records consist primarily of documents, images, and other materials produced by the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and various materials from outside sources. The majority of the records associated with child labor are from the AFL and primarily cover the late 1890s to the early 1930s. Child labor in the U.S. is dealt with the most.

Child labor is best defined for the purposes of this pathfinder as the harmful exploitation of children in industry. This pathfinder consists of a bibliography and a guide to potentially useful records at the GMMA, which primarily consist of documents, images, and published materials from various AFL-CIO affiliates.

Using Archives

Want to find out more about the types of resources archives have to offer and how to use them? Jonathan Robins, a student at Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, served as an intern at the George Meany Memorial Archives during the 1999-2000 academic year. Jonathan’s goal was to write a pathfinder (or guide) to the materials available in the archives on the subject of child labor. In the piece below, he talks about what you can expect to find in an archives and how to use what you find.

Last fall I began an internship as part of a senior year program at Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County, Maryland. I chose to work at the George Meany Memorial Archives (GMMA), the archives of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). I had never been into an archives before the internship, so I had to learn all I could about how an archives operates.

At first I thought an archives was similar to a library. In the average library, you can walk up to a computer catalog, type in the subject you want to find books about, and then go find the books on shelves. Archives are quite different. Instead of books, archives contain records that indicate what a person or organization has done and how they did it. Records are everything from memos and reports to newspaper clippings and pamphlets. These records are not treated like books in a library. Records are usually stored in boxes, sorted by their source, such as the creator or donor of the records. You will not be allowed to walk in the “stacks” where the boxes are stored. Instead you will ask an archivist to get the files you want for you. You will probably be supervised while reading over materials, as many items are unique and fragile. Records can not be checked out like library books. You will have to make copies if you want to take something home.

So how do you figure out which records you want to look at? This is where archivists and items called finding aids come in. When you go to the archives, talk with an archivist. Have some specific questions about your project’s subject. Be knowledgeable enough to discuss what information would be pertinent to your project. After talking, ask to see the finding aids. Finding aids are often accessible by computer terminal, but sometimes they exist only in printed formats.

Finding aids are tools that describe the records in the archives, providing background information such as the time period covered and a brief history of the organization or person who created the records. A finding aid will describe the contents of the collection and may identify important items. However, a finding aid is not a table of contents for the archives’ holdings. With a book, you can look up a name in the table of contents or index to find out where to look for information about it. Using a finding aid will require you to look for events, issues, and important dates related to a name to find information, usually in several different collections. Using a finding aid will help you locate material to look at and save time by directing you to specific files in a collection that have useful information.

During my internship at the GMMA, I was given the task of listing particularly useful items regarding child labor. I had never done any archival research beforehand, yet I managed to find hundreds of useful items. Before I did any actual work with the records, my supervisor sent me to the GMMA’s library. There I did considerable background reading about child labor. I had a general sense of what issues and events were involved in child labor from history classes, but reading helped identify specific areas of interest. I noted things like the Child Labor Amendment, an unratified amendment from 1924, and people such as Samuel Gompers, first president of the AFL, who was vocal about stopping child labor. I then talked with my supervisor, an archivist, about the project and discussed what kinds of records existed about the subject. After that, I started looking at findings aids.

The GMMA has several different finding aids, each for a specific record group or type of media. A look at the photograph finding aid pointed me to series 1, box 7, file 5 to find pictures of children working. My search through the legislative record group was narrowed from nearly ninety cubic feet of papers to one box by using the finding aids.

So now you’ve got a few files to look at. What exactly are you looking for? Background reading is very important at this stage, too. As I searched, I saw a newspaper clipping about the “Fair Labor Standards Act,” a law passed in 1938 that restricted the work that children could do. Knowing what the headline was talking about helped me decide whether or not to read the article. It turned out to be a fairly good source of information. Knowing the facts also helps you deal with contradictory information. In the midst of anti-child labor items, I found a paper from 1935 telling people why the Child Labor Amendment should not be allowed to pass. Looking at it provided insights as to why people opposed something that I had thought of as clearly necessary. Decide on who is right after you read a contradictory item. Take note of the issues involved and the evidence on both sides of the argument.

A good way to save time during your search is to watch for repetition. I found a pamphlet in several versions and decided to skip some. Having a good knowledge of the chronology of events is also helpful for saving time when dealing with records sorted by time period. I stopped looking for files about the Child Labor Amendment once I reached files containing only information from the 1950s, as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 essentially ended the demand for a child labor amendment.

You can also use time more effectively by looking for records that catch your eye. Unusual or striking items are easy to isolate and can provide a different perspective on information than average documents. While looking through a file full of plain white pamphlets, I found one that had a political cartoon on the front. It stood out from the rest and provided a more interesting source of information than the others. Newspaper headlines, posters, cartoons and personal letters often yield a wealth of information and make for more interesting reading than typical office memos and reports.

So you have gotten a stack of documents out from the endless rows of boxes. You have read them all thoroughly and taken notes on key points. You have made copies to take home. You should have a large amount of information from a variety of sources. Now what? It’s up to you to analyze the documents and figure out how they will fit into your project.

A. Philip Randolph


A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph – 1889-1979

A. Philip Randolph once said:

Freedom is never granted and is never given; it is won and exacted.

Randolph’s life was a passionate struggle to achieve the inextricably linked goals of racial freedom and economic justice. For a biographical sketch on Randolph, click here.