The Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (MFLU) was a short-lived agricultural union that formed in the Bolivar County town of Shaw in 1965 as a collaboration between about forty-five cotton workers troubled by low wages and poor conditions and activists in the Congress of Federated Organizations. The union’s main goal was to increase agricultural wages to $1.25 an hour and more broadly to help agricultural workers bargain with their employers at a time when they had little political power or economic leverage. At its height the MFLU numbered close to one thousand workers in ten Delta counties.
Members of the MFLU faced significant pressure from plantation owners, who were well along in the process of mechanizing their establishments, a process that decreased the number of workers needed and meant that workers who were hired were needed for only two or three months per year. Several plantation owners evicted tenants who joined the MFLU and engaged in labor strikes. The union had a few promising moments when workers struck against Sen. James Eastland’s plantation in Sunflower County. Another group of workers, supported by the Delta Ministry, struck the Andrews Plantation in Washington County. When those strikers, led by plantation timekeeper Wallace Greene, were evicted, they took up residence in a new community they called Strike City, consisting primarily of tents. The Delta Ministry and a Jackson group, Neighborhood Developers, helped some of those workers build small homes in 1966.
The MFLU had an abbreviated life, in part as a consequence of changes in southern agriculture. According to John Dittmer, “MFLU was a bold and romantic venture, but it was anachronistic, and activists began to explore other initiatives to deal with the changing agricultural economy.”
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1995)
- Bruce Hilton, The Delta Ministry (1969)
- J. Todd Moye, Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945–1986 (2004)
- Mark Newman, Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi (2004)