Richard B. Russell Special Collections Libraries, Other Locations

The University of Georgia will host the 2018 Southern Labor Studies Association conference, a biannual gathering of scholars, students, and activists. Keynote presentations include “Heard it on the Grapevine: Slave Labor, Mobility, and Power in Antebellum America” by Susan O’Donovan, the Dunavant University Professor at the University of Memphis, as well as a lunchtime keynote by Maurice Hobson of Georgia State University on the subject of his new book, The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta.

The conference will be held in the Richard B. Russell Special Collections building and at other UGA and Athens sites. Registration, $90 for non-members and $65 for SLSA members, is available at Several events will be free and open to the public.

Attendees from around the United States, England, Northern Ireland, and India will discuss the past and present of labor and working-class history in the U.S. South. Participants include many prize-winning authors, including Dartmouth professor Rashauna Johnson, the author of Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions; Brian Kelly, from Queens University Belfast, the author of Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields; and LaGuana Gray, author of We Just Keep Running the Line: Black Southern Women and the Poultry Processing Industry.

Two authors of the multi-prize winning Like a Family: The Making of the Southern Cotton Mill World will participate as well as novelist Wiley Cash, whose forthcoming book tells the story of Ella May Wiggins, singer, spinner, single mom, and martyr of the 1929 Loray Mills Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina.

“The legacy of labor in the South has shaped not just on our region but many parts of the world,” said Cindy Hahamovitch, B. Phinizy Spalding Professor of History at UGA. “This is an unprecedented event for Athens. Anyone interested in working people past and present will want to attend.”

Panels, workshops, roundtables and keynotes will discuss many subjects including slavery, mining, farming, food processing, university labor, textiles, the nuclear power industry, foreign-owned auto factories, construction workers’ safety, black labor in the U.S. Army, Jim Crow, convict labor, anti-union sentiment, enslaved household workers and concubines in the US South, and Latino/a workers. There will also be a special multimedia session on the 1991 Hamlet Fire, which killed 25 workers in North Carolina.

Several sessions are free and open to the public, including a talk by Vimal Kumar, founder of the Movement for Scavenger Community, on the collection by hand of human waste in India; two sessions on organizing in the South today; and a mini-film festival, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 19.

Film screenings include “A Strike and an Uprising” by Anne Lewis; “Union Time: Fighting for Worker’s Rights” by Matthew Barr; “The Committee” by University of Central Florida faculty and students; and “A Day’s Work,” a film on temp work by Dave DeSario.

The last event, also free and open to the public, will be a panel discussion on “Queer Labor in the South” at 7 p.m. on May 19 in the Morton Theater.

“Dirty Work” is funded in part by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, the Vice President for Research, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, the Southern Historical Association, the department of history, the Southern Labor Archives, and the University of Georgia Press.