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Cigar Factory Strike 1940s

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The Cigar Factory operated from 1903 to 1973 in an older five-brick victorian building. Before it operated as a cigar factory, it uses to be a textile mill factory. “The Charleston Manufacture Company, incorporated in 1880, was ranked in the top of eight of 26 textile mills in the state by 1882.” [1] The employees of the factory were young working-class white and black women along with men. According to the South Carolina’s Oldest Daily Newspaper, the Cigar Factory hired around 250 new workers each week. They were set to produce the United States best-selling five-cent certified Ceramo and the ten-cent Roi-Tan cigars. “The factory employed large numbers of young, working-class, black and white women and men to produce the United States’ biggest-selling five-cent Certified Cremo and ten-cent Roi-Tan cigars" [2]The factory began to earn the name “Cremo College” because of the many young people that worked there. The majority of women worked in this factory because women were more monotonous to factory-type jobs than men. “Women are more suitable to monotonous jobs than men… because of a different makeup. And women were cheaper to hire”[3] The labor consisted of eight-hour shifts working on an assembly line. The workers were segregated based on their face and gender. The strike began on October 23, 1945. More than 1,100 workers went on strike against the factory. “October 22, 1945, work at the American Cigar Factory in Charleston came to a halt when more than 1,100 workers walked out.”[4] To make the strike a national one, the strikers teamed up with the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied union and the Congress of Industrial Organization to go against the American Tobacco Company. The workers went on strike for an increased pay of 25 cents, sick leave with pay, better working conditions, unionization, and to end racial discrimination. One of the workers, Dorothy Young, went on strike because she did not like the treatment of black workers by black managers. Many of the male white workers were able to make more money than others because there were machines set aside for only white men. “For example, machinists held the most high-paying positions in the factory, and only white men could access these positions” [5] The majority of the people that were on strike were African American women. The song, “We Shall Overcome” was a song that became the anthem of the strike. It was an old song sung in the African American community that was passed down throughout generations. The song was used to keep the morale high of everyone that was on strike during the cold winter months.“To keep up the morale, the remaining pickets would ‘sing themselves away’ some days” [6](Carawan, Highlander Center) The song was lead by Lucille Simmons because she was the main activist. The strike was won on a national level in 1946, in March. The American Tobacco Industry agreed to raise wages by 8 cents, get rid of discriminatory restrictions that were against African Americans, however, the injustice in the workplace did not change.


  1. Lofton. "3 Properties Named to Historic Register". St.Louis Post-Dispatch. Check date values in: |access-date= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. Caugh, Dwana. "Charleston's Cigar Factory Strike, 1945-1946". May 2014.
  3. Feaster. "Closing Rumors Were Routine". Check date values in: |access-date= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. Porter. "Cigar Plant Striker Relieve Bold Days on the Picket Line". Of The Post and Courier Staff. Check date values in: |access-date= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. Waugh, Dwana. "Charleston's Cigar Factory Strike, 1945-1946". Retrieved May 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  6. Carawan, Guy. "We Shall Overcome American Freedom Song".

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