Remembering Nate Smith, Pittsburgh’s Prizefighting Labor Activist

Labor News

Reprinted from The Nation by Jordana Rosenfeld on May 1, 2018.

“In the years after World War II, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made drastic changes to its built environment in an attempt to move beyond its designation as the ‘Smoky City,’ a name earned by the city’s thick smog and industrial pollution,” writes Jordana Rosenfeld in The Nation. “Contentious urban renewal displaced thousands of black people in favor of commercial development, while ambitious construction projects contributed to Pittsburgh’s now-iconic downtown skyline.

“In the midst of this growth, Pittsburgh native Nate Smith saw major inequity. Ninety-eight percent of Pittsburgh’s 30,000 union construction workers were white, preventing black laborers in Pittsburgh from sharing in the benefits of the city’s first construction boom. Construction unions, at the time, were almost impossible to break into without family ties; pervasive racism did the rest. When community members protested the lack of black representation in construction, union bosses said that though they wanted to hire qualified black workers, they couldn’t find anyone skilled enough. …

The Nation 5/1

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Jeff Burman represents assistant editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at

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