Organizing the Difficult History of the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471

Mary Lou William’s AFM Local 471 membership card. These membership cards are some of the Local’s only surviving artifacts.
 

Organizing the Difficult History of the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471

Char Pyle, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections – Fall 2021  

This past semester, I worked under Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts David Grinnell to reprocess the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471 records collection, as well as help digitize transcriptions of the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project interviews. The union has played an important role in the history of music in Pittsburgh, and I’m grateful that I was able to help make that history more easily accessed—especially important due to the themes of repression of information and accessibility within the union’s history, particularly surrounding the 1966 merging of the black and white locals (471 and 60, respectively).  

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is a labor union representing musicians across the country. The Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union, Local 60-471 of the AFM, has a particularly storied history. Local 60 was formed in 1897, one year after the AFM was founded; in 1908, Local 471 was created for black musicians in Pittsburgh. The two locals merged in 1966 following an integration order from the AFM. While integration seemed like a positive step toward equality, it ultimately made it more difficult for black musicians to advocate for themselves and be heard. This interaction is noted at the beginning of one of the meetings between both locals while discussing the merger:    

Before considering items, Pres. Davis asks: ‘How can we meet on common ground? What do we need? (to effect agreeable merger)’ Pres. Westray answers: ‘It revolves around representation.’ 

This emphasis on representation is visible in Local 471’s proposals during the merger. They sought out guaranteed representation in elected office, as they knew they were unlikely to be perceived as equals by the majority-white membership base of the merged union. Since the merger, and still today, leadership of Local 60-471 is primarily white. Based on these minutes, it appears these suggestions were heavily contested and subsequently dismissed by members of Local 60. One of their arguments was that this was “a type of segregation in reverse.” 

Sadly, records from Local 471 are sparse. There is significantly more material available for Local 60, including film reels, publications, meeting minutes, photographs, and various booklets. The merged local may have been viewed as simply a continuation of the white local, and artifacts related to Local 471 might simply have been devalued and destroyed. The effects of this lack of preservation were apparent almost immediately, as membership cards for many Local 471 members were lost in the merger. This led to a discontinuation of seniority benefits (even though the opposite was promised in the merger agreement), which caused many to cancel their memberships. Thankfully, there have been efforts to recover the history of Local 471 through the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project, which includes interviews of former members giving their accounts of the union and the years surrounding it.  

When so many former Local 471 members resigned, they lost the ability to play music in Pittsburgh without paying a fine, and the city missed out on countless performances and talented artists. This event greatly shaped the landscape of Pittsburgh music as a whole.  

Going into this internship, I was mainly focused on learning the technical aspects of working in archives. I didn’t expect to become so invested in this story, but I’m grateful that I got to be a part of making it heard. This work has taught me about the importance of proper processing in order to make a collection available to researchers.  

Categories: 
  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh