My research examines coalition-building among African American, Chicano/a-Latino/a, and white community organizers across the long civil rights era, from the 1930s to the present. I explore how a wide range of activists organized their separate bases and how and why they frequently built alliances across the color line. I weave together traditional written records from buried archives with new oral history interviews. With these sources, I write narrative histories that combine scholarly analysis with accessible prose for popular audiences. My work contributes to the separate fields of African American, Chicano/a-Latino/a, and labor and working-class history–and by putting those field into conversation, reveals new insights about each of them.
Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (University of North Carolina Press)
- Winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians, 2017
- Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas History, Texas State Historical Association, 2017
- National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco Non-Fiction Book Award, 2017
- Ramirez Family Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book, Texas Institute of Letters, 2016
This book is about the other Texas, not the state known for its cowboy conservatism, but a mid-twentieth-century hotbed of community organizing, liberal politics, and civil rights activism. Beginning in the 1930s, Max Krochmal tells the story of the decades-long struggle for democracy in Texas, when African American, Mexican American, and white labor and community activists gradually came together to empower the state’s marginalized minorities. At the ballot box and in the streets, these diverse activists demanded not only integration but economic justice, labor rights, and real political power for all. Their efforts gave rise to the Democratic Coalition of the 1960s, a militant, multiracial alliance that would take on and eventually overthrow both Jim Crow and Juan Crow.
Using rare archival sources and original oral history interviews, Krochmal reveals the often-overlooked democratic foundations and liberal tradition of one of our nation’s most conservative states. Blue Texas remembers the many forgotten activists who, by crossing racial lines and building coalitions, democratized their cities and state to a degree that would have been unimaginable just a decade earlier–and it shows why their story still matters today.
Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Histories of Resistance and Struggle in Texas (University of Texas Press; with J. Todd Moye)
Not one but two civil rights movements flourished in mid-twentieth-century Texas, and they did so in intimate conversation with one another. Far from the gaze of the national media, African American and Mexican American activists combated the twin caste systems of Jim Crow and Juan Crow. These insurgents worked chiefly within their own racial groups, yet they also looked to each other for guidance and, at times, came together in solidarity. The movements sought more than integration and access: they demanded power and justice.
A new collaborative book, Civil Rights in Black and Brown draws on more than 500 oral history interviews newly collected across Texas, from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods and everywhere in between. The testimonies speak in detail to the structure of racism in small towns and huge metropolises—both the everyday grind of segregation and the haunting acts of racial violence that upheld Texas’s state-sanctioned systems of white supremacy. Through their memories of resistance and revolution, the activists reveal previously undocumented struggles for equity, as well as the links Black and Chicanx organizers forged in their efforts to achieve self-determination.
With support from a National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant as well as private funding, project faculty and staff are conducting interviews in twenty interviews across Texas, in every major city and in smaller towns from Amarillo in the Panhandle to El Paso in far west Texas, from the Rio Grande Valley and the piney woods of Deep East Texas.
Our website, the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database, is a publicly accessible, free, and user-friendly multimedia digital humanities website that provides digital video clips from the interviews to researchers as well as teachers, journalists, and the general public. Rather than simply streaming full interviews or displaying transcripts, this site indexes short clips and embeds a number of detailed thematic metadata codes and tags. End users are able to easily search for detailed subject information across the entire interview collection and add their own tags to help future users. For more information, visit crbb.tcu.edu or “Like” the project on Facebook.
Organizing Agribusiness from Farm to Factory: A New Food and Labor History of America’s Most Diverse Union (eds. Jarod Roll, Erik Gellman, Max Krochmal, Sarah McNamara; under contract with University of North Carolina Press)
This collaborative project uncovers for the complete story of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse and Allied Workers of America (later the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers), a radical affiliate of the CIO that sought to organize the nation’s entire agricultural commodity chain, from farm to factory. Multiracial and often women-led, the union is best known for its accomplishments on the local scale, thanks to a pair of influential monographs and numerous articles.
Yet the national tale of the UCAPAWA/FTA has never been told. The union brought together an unprecedented amalgamation of working people of all colors from coast to coast, equally divided among women and men, and wove them together into a single social movement committed to not just trade unionism but also the twin struggles against racism and fascism. The members ranged from diverse Asian farmworkers in Hawaii to Filipino salmon packers in the Pacific Northwest and from Chicana cannery women in California to New Mexican sugar beet workers in Colorado. The Mexicano pecan shellers in Texas that I’ve written about joined as well, along with black and white tenant farmers and cotton oil processors in the Memphis/Arkansas Delta region and African American sharecroppers in Alabama. Black tobacco and cigarette manufacturers in the North Carolina and Virginia Piedmont collaborated with Latina/o cigar workers in Florida and New York. White ethnic Campbell’s Soup workers in Chicago and Camden, New Jersey, also joined the cause, as did many others of all backgrounds from across the nation. When these polyglot workers first assembled in Denver in 1937, they had never met, but they elected a diverse slate of officers and regional directors that gave them the confidence to pool their resources into a national union. They saw themselves as the spearhead of organized labor in the countryside, the one group that could connect struggling farmers with urban industrial workers. By 1940, they embraced the war effort in order to use the union as a wedge to democratize the nation’s political-economy and even its foreign policy. By 1944, just before the end of the war, the union had grown to become the seventh largest affiliate of the CIO, a committed civil rights union that defeated several American industrial giants and now threatened the caste systems of the South and Southwest—and the reassertion of patriarchal norms in the postwar period. Ultimately, the union could not survive the employers’ counteroffensive during reconversion, and it succumbed to the Second Red Scare by 1950.
The national tale of their radically democratic, multiracial unionism has been lost to history, the union’s central office records destroyed in a mysterious flood. By organizing more than a dozen scholars working on different pieces of the subject, my collaborators and I are finally assembling all of the locally-held primary sources and separate case studies into a single synthesis. The union’s combined story is even more significant than are those of the distinct chapters of California, North Carolina, and other locales. The fact that far-flung unionists joined together in a single unit—and the discussions and acts of solidarity that occurred when they assembled—deepen historians’ sense of the possible during the New Deal and World War II periods. At the point of production and in the halls of Congress, UCAPAWA/FTA proposed bold solutions to the era’s most vexing problems, be they social, macroeconomic, or geopolitical. The union represents a window into the left wing of U.S. labor history that has long been subordinated to the dominant narratives of the steel and auto industries and their unions. The UCAPAWA/FTA also offers a powerful example for today’s organizers.
Progress on the project is well underway. After a series of conference panels starting in 2014, we invited a dozen scholars to present papers at a symposium at the University of Mississippi in March 2018. Each contributor has prepared a full article-length chapter based on their expertise, and we are now working to pull the stories together into a single narrative frame. We will add some new contributors and assemble again in May 2019 at a conference in Durham, after which we will submit three end products to the University of North Carolina Press: a scholarly anthology, a slim synthetic national narrative history for activists and classroom use, and a digital humanities website.
The Radical 1980s: The Rainbow Coalition and the Remaking of Immigrant Rights
My next monograph project examines Latinx and Black activism and coalition-building in the Age of Reagan, an era in which such organizing is scarcely thought to exist. Yet my research excavates several vibrant, intersecting insurgencies: the Black-led U.S. campaign against apartheid (emanating out of Atlanta and the South), the Central American sanctuary and solidarity movements in Houston (decentering California and the Northeast), and the rise of new multiracial service industry unions in Las Vegas (where Black refugees from the U.S. South and Latin American immigrants coalesced as the driving force). Among other emerging themes, I am recovering early activism among recent (post-1965) immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, a group who is collectively redefining the internal life of African American communities in the South and nationwide. Their experiences expand the normatively-Latinx “immigrant rights movement” to include Black actors and issues.
At the same time, the project explores the deepening involvement of U.S. Latinx activists in immigrant rights battles after 1965, updating and extending the classic “Walls and Mirrors” debate in which Mexican Americans engaged in a protracted internal dialogue over their relationship to recent Mexicano immigrants. The histories of the Central American diaspora and struggles in the 1980s explode that formulation while simultaneously redefining U.S. Latinidad, unveiling its roots in shared struggles, not just demographic change.
Last, the project traces the grassroots origins of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and explains its internationalism and commitment to domestic human rights. Preliminary research on this book has already taken me from Texas to Seattle, and I plan to explore related stories of transnational migration and community organizing during an upcoming Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship in Puebla, México.
Articles & Book Chapters (Selected)
“Goodwyn and the Democratic Coalition of Texas,” in Wesley C. Hogan and Paul Ortiz, eds., People Power: History, Organizing, and Larry Goodwyn’s Democratic Vision in the Twenty-First Century (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2021): 19-33.
“Connecting to Activists and the Public through the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project,” LAWCHA Watch column in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 13, no. 3-4 (December 2016): 15-17.
“San Antonio Chicano Organizers (SACO): Labor Activists and El Movimiento,” in The Chicano Movement: Perspectives from the Twenty-First Century, ed. Mario T. Garcia (Routledge, 2014).
“Chicano Labor and Multiracial Politics in Post-World War II Texas: Two Case Studies,” in Life and Labor in the New New South, ed. Robert H. Zieger (University Press of Florida, 2012). Digital reprint by permission of the University Press of Florida.
“An Unmistakably Working-Class Vision: Birmingham’s Foot Soldiers and Their Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of Southern History LXXVI, no. 4 (November 2010): 923-960.
Awards, Fellowships, and External Grants
Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship, Chair in U.S. Studies, Universidad Iberoamericana, Ciudad de México, 2021-22.
OAH Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians, 2021-Present
“Latina/o Studies by the Experts: A Pathway to Culturally-Relevant Curriculum,” Competitive contract awarded by Fort Worth Independent School District, $86,091 (principal investigator)
Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians, for Blue Texas, 2017
Summerlee Fellowship in Texas History, Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, 2013-2014, $45,500.
National Endowment for the Humanities, Collaborative Research Grant, for Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Oral Histories of the Multiracial Freedom Struggle in Texas, 1954 – Present (principal investigator), $200,000, 2015-2019. Additional matching funds from the Summerlee Foundation and the Brown Family Fund, Houston.
Latino Americans: 500 Years of History grant program, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and American Library Association, grant in collaboration with the City of Fort Worth, $10,000, September 2015 (sub-contracted services to Civil Rights in Black and Brown, ~$5,000).