Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1944: Lillian Hatcher becomes UAW’s first Black female union rep. 

By: - October 21, 2021 3:17 am

Caroline Davis (left) and Lillian Hatcher at the UAW Women’s Department. | Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo

Lillian Hatcher, the first Black woman to serve as a United Auto Workers (UAW) representative, was appointed to the Women’s Division of War Policy on Oct. 21, 1944, according to multiple news sources, including the Michigan Chronicle, the state’s largest Black-owned newspaper. 

In the role, the resident of Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood worked directly with Walter Reuther, the organization’s president, on World War II-related union issues. 

Born in 1915 in Greenville, Ala., Hatcher moved to Detroit with her family in 1917. She later attended the University of Michigan and Marygrove College. Hatcher also worked in the Briggs Manufacturing plant as a riveter, a job made famous by the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign to recruit women in the defense industry during World War II.

In 1984, she told the Detroit Free Press: “A good friend came to me and said, ‘You know, they’re training women — girls, she said — for defense work. And I said, ‘Where?’ I needed the money. It was not a question of being patriotic. Perhaps I left patriotic — I have always had a love for our country — but that was not why I went to work.”

“There were seven Black women hired on the same day that I was hired, and they put us on the graveyard shift, from 5:00 to 3:30 in the morning-riding the Oakman streetcar and transferring downtown …”

In 1959, Hatcher was reappointed and the Rev. Nicholas Hood Sr. was appointed to the Commission on Community Relations by Detroit Mayor Louis Miriani.

She also was elected to serve on the 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention, a bipartisan body that led an effort to revise the state Constitution for the first time since 1908.

In December 1961, Hatcher and fellow Democrats Daisy Elliott, and Coleman A. Young submitted Proposal No. 1522 and 1523 to their Michigan Constitutional Convention colleagues. 

Proposal No.1522 provided for a civil rights commission with “enforcement powers to eliminate discrimination and segregation based on race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and other such rights, privileges or immunities as are guaranteed under this Constitution.” 

Proposal No.1523 prescribes how the commission should be constituted and the procedures that it is to follow in exercising its authority. Both proposals were later adopted by the 144-member body, later approved by state voters, and became a significant set of provisions included in the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

After a long and distinguished career, Lillian Hatcher died in 1998. She was 83.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.