Editor’s Note: As Chinta Strausberg (former award winning reporter from Chicago Defender Newspaper) writes below, Rev. Addie Wyatt was a legendary leader whose life and legacy in the religious, labor and civil rights movement are historic, and I want to add my personal thanks for the role she played in my life as a young student and next generation leader who grew up under her leadership in the organizations led by the The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr, from Operation Breadbasket, Operation PUSH, now Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. I and other youth leaders like Barack Obama were counseled and supported by Rev. Addie Wyatt as we worked at local and national community organizing and direct action activities. She was up close and personal with me along with the Rev. Willie T. Barrow (another former aide to Dr. King) as I worked as a national staff member to Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr and during the historic political campaigns of Harold Washington For Mayor, Jesse Jackson Jr for Congress, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr For President and of course the campaign of Barack Obama for President Of The United States. I will forever be humbled and blessed by the input Rev. Wyatt has had in my life and her legacy lives on! (Mark S. Allen, veteran political activist/community organizer, Chicago Chairman of Black Wall Street Chicago)
Rev. Addie L. Wyatt, labor leader and icon, dead at 88
By Chinta Strausberg
Known as a trailblazer and one of the nation’s first African American union leaders, the Rev. Addie L. Wyatt, 88, died Wednesday at Advocate Trinity Hospital two-days after she was admitted, according to one of her nursing assistants, Connie Ivy-Jones.
Reached at the home of Rev. Wyatt late last night, Ivy-Jones said Rev. Wyatt had went to the hospital this past Monday and had been ill “on and off but still able to go to functions.”
One of Rev. Wyatt’s best friends, Rev. Willie Taplin Barrow, was with her at the hospital, according to Ivy-Jones. The two were inseparable and together worked on both labor and civil rights issues for decades.
Ironically, Rev. Wyatt’s husband, the late Rev. Dr. Claude Wyatt whom she married on My 12, 1940, passed in April of 2010. They had founded and both were co-pastors of the Vernon Park Church of God, 9011 South Stony Island Avenue in Chicago. They were married for 69-years and had two sons, Claude S. Wyatt and Renaldo Wyatt.
Like her husband, Rev. Wyatt, who was born on March 28, 1924 in Brookhaven, MS to Ambrose and Maggie Cameron, was a personal friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and. Rev. Addie Wyatt came to Chicago in 1930 when she was 6-years-old. When her mother died, Rev. Wyatt raised her siblings. Years ago, she told this writer it was an honor to raise her siblings she felt were more like her own children.
Wyatt had told this writer that she first tried out for a typist job but that she was told she failed the test; so she began working at a meat packing company in 1941 to 1953. However, once there, Rev. Wyatt was elected vice president of Local 56. She was the first African American to hold such a high labor union position.
She went on to become the director of the Women’s Affairs and Human Rights Departments of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and in the 1960’s, Eleanor Roosevelt honored her leadership skills by appointing her to a position on the Labor Legislation Committee of the United States Commission on the Status of Women, according to Wikipedia.
But, Wyatt didn’t stop there. In the 1970’s she held a powerful position in the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and in 1974 she founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Wyatt became the international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers in 1976. Again she was the first African American woman to hold a high union leadership position in an international union.
She and her husband always took time to give back to the community especially with their civil rights work. Dr. Addie Wyatt was ordained in 1955 as a Church of God minister. Her husband was also ordained in the same faith. Together they worked with Dr King including marching with him in the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and other civil rights events.
Like her husband, Rev. Wyatt was one of the founders of Operation Breadbasket and a board member. She also worked very closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as an adviser. Wyatt and her husband founded the Wyatt Choral Ensemble in 1944.
Rev. Wyatt is survived by her son, Claude, and numerous grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.