Reverend Addie Wyatt was a labor leader, women’s rights advocate and civil rights activist who became the first Black woman elected international vice president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union and in 1975 was named “Woman of the Year” by Time magazine.
Born in Mississippi, Addie Wyatt was the eldest of eight children who often took care of her siblings while her mother worked. She moved to Chicago when she was just six years old and began working in the canning department of Armour and Co. at the age of 17 when she was barred from her chosen occupation of typist.
Impressed by the raises that the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) fought for and won at Armour, Wyatt became an active member of the union. Not only did UPWA work to ensure fair wages for workers, its seniority clause stopped Armour from replacing Wyatt with a white woman, a common practice in those days.
“I knew that I wanted to help other workers, and I found out that I could help them by joining with them and making the union strong and powerful enough to bring change,” she told an interviewer in 2005.
In 1954, Wyatt became the first Black woman president of UPWA Local 56, and later an international representative, a post she held until UPWA merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen in 1974.
She was also the first Black female international vice president of the organization and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) after Amalgamated merged with the Retail Clerks International Union in 1979.
Addie and her husband, both ministers, were fierce advocates for civil rights. After founding the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago in 1956, they continued to raise funds for civil rights causes and joined with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Wyatt was also founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the National Organization of Women, accolades that earned her a spot among Time magazine’s Woman of the Year recipients in 1975.
Addie was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.