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Springer Kemp, Maida (1910-2005) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Springer Kemp, Maida (1910-2005)


Historical Note:

Maida Springer Kemp, American and African labor and trade union activist. Springer-Kemp traveled throughout Africa, lending her technical assistance to the emergence of trade unions through her work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Springer Kemp was born on May 12, 1910, in Panama to Harold and Adina Stewart. Harold Stewart, a black migrant from Barbados, arrived as one of many migrant workers from the Caribbean to work on the Panama Canal. Adina Stewart identified herself as a Spanish-speaking Panamanian. The family immigrated to New York in August 1917, where the Stewarts divorced soon afterwards.  Adina Stewart, a struggling single parent working in low-paying jobs, raised Maida in Harlem.

Springer Kemp graduated from Bordentown in 1926 and during her school years often held summer jobs in the garment industry, one of the limited jobs available to black females.  Her marriage to Owen Springer, an immigrant from Barbados, temporarily ended her participation in the workforce, but she soon returned to the garment industry in 1932 due to increased financial burdens incurred during the Great Depression.  In May 1933, she joined the Dressmaker’s Union, Local 22 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU.)

After a successful strike in August 1933, Springer Kemp began to take on more assignments from the union. Her increased devotion led to her rising status within the ILGWU, resulting in her serving on the executive board by 1938 and becoming the chair of its education committee in 1940. In 1945, the AFL and CIO made Springer-Kemp its representative as a delegate for a trip sponsored by the United States Army’s Office of Psychological Warfare to observe wartime conditions for workers in Great Britain.

After the war, Springer Kemp’s activism turned towards the international arena, particularly in the new labor unions emerging in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, and other African nations. In 1957, she assisted the AFL-CIO in their African projects, where she helped coordinate a scholarship program for African trade unionists. She served as the International Representative for Africa, Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO (1959-1965) and continued her activism as a general organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (1966-1969).

Springer Kemp worked in the fields of voter registration and education as the Midwest Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (1970 to 1973). In conjunction with her work at the institute, when the Sahel Drought in western and central Africa struck in 1970, she began coordinating relief programs for the African American Labor Center (AALC).  She became a staff member of the AFL-CIO affiliated AALC (1973-1976) and was the liaison for the American labor movement in Africa during the period.

Springer Kemp became a consultant with the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, another AFL-CIO-affiliated organization. Her work at the institute focused on the development of women’s labor activities in Turkey and Indonesia, including special seminars held in those countries in 1980. During this time, she also remained an independent labor consultant, attending conferences and seminars throughout the African continent. Springer Kemp was involved in special assignments and events with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Task Force in Africa and the National Council of Negro Women. Following her retirement in 1981, Springer Kemp became involved in the American women’s labor movement, including the promotion of equality for women in professional life.

In 1965, Maida Springer married James Kemp. She died in Pittsburge on March 29, 2005.

Sources:

The papers of Maida Springer-Kemp at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Richards, Yevette, Maida Springer: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

Note Author: Laura Thomson and Maher Judah





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