Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

University of Mississippi

Porter L. Fortune, Jr. Symposium

The Porter L. Fortune, Jr., History Symposium began as a conference on southern history in 1975. In 1983, it was named for Porter L. Fortune, Jr., chancellor emeritus, to honor his contributions to the success of the symposium. Past events have examined topics such as religion in the South, medicine and technology in the Civil War, women’s history, and the place of the United States South in the World.

The conference is held annually. It is a three day event that is free of charge and open to the general public.

“Organizing Agribusiness from Farm to Factory:
Toward a New History of America’s Most Ambitious Labor Union”

43rd Porter Fortune Symposium
Arch Dalrymple III Department of History
University of Mississippi
March 1-3, 2018

In 1937 a group of radical activists and workers formed the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), an industrial union affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Influenced by the nascent industrial union and Popular Front movements of the 1930s, their vision was expansive: they sought to organize the agricultural commodity industry from the fields to the processing factories across the United States. In a time of immigration restriction, structural white supremacy, and masculinist state policy, UCAPAWA organizers reached out to diverse groups of female and male workers, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and native-born and ethnic whites, many of them excluded from the protections of New Deal labor law. These groups pioneered a form of “civil rights unionism” that not only pressed for better wages and conditions on farms and in factories, but also articulated an anti-fascist culture and working-class politics in the face of rampant race and gender discrimination. UCAPAWA’s effort required a reach—geographical, occupational, legal, and cultural—that no union had attempted before. By 1940, UCAPAWA’s membership included Campbell’s Soup workers in New Jersey and Illinois, cotton farmers and gin workers in California, Texas, and the lower Mississippi River valley, tobacco workers in the Carolinas, pecan shellers in Texas, sugar beet workers in Colorado, Planter’s peanut workers in Virginia, cannery row workers from California to Alaska, pineapple pickers in Hawaii, and Quaker oat mill workers in Chicago, among many others.

The whole story of UCAPAWA has never been told. Historians have studied some of the constituent unions, but usually in isolation; no national history of UCAPAWA exists. The history of the union’s path-breaking effort to win economic justice and civil rights for the most vulnerable workers across 1930s and 1940s America not only sheds new light on the possibilities and limitations of social movements in mid-twentieth century America but also speaks to food and economic justice issues in the United States today. In a recent issue of LABOR, Sue Levine and Steve Striffler called for just this kind of history: “We clearly need more histories of the food industry – not only farm workers and migrant labor or meatpacking and poultry plants but the giant food processing, distribution and retail industries that took form during the twentieth century.”[1] UCAPAWA offers a powerful framework for analyzing the food industry across time and place.

This symposium will launch a collaborative project to recover and write a national history of UCAPAWA. It will bring together senior and junior scholars who have studied the union in various regional, chronological, and occupational contexts for a wide-ranging discussion to explore the connections and disconnections between these local struggles and the union’s national political and legal strategies. The symposium will be of interest to historians and other scholars of: civil rights and social movements; labor and working class studies; capitalism; politics and the law; gender and women; the African American, Asian American, and/or Hispanic experiences; food production and justice; the modern American South; and, more generally, the modern United States.


Thursday, March 1

Reception, 5:30pm-6:15pm
Gallery Room, Barnard Observatory

Opening Plenary, 6:30pm-8:00pm
Tupelo Room, Barnard Observatory
Vicki Ruiz, University of California, Irvine
Robert Korstad, Duke University

Friday, March 2

All panels in Bondurant Hall, 204C
Tea and coffee served throughout

Panel 1: Local Imaginaries of a Big Picture, 9am-10:30am
Lane Windham, Georgetown University
Dorothy Fujita-Rony, University of California, Irvine

Panel 2: Biography as Lens, 10:45am-12:15pm
Dan Sidorick, Rutgers University
Sarah McNamara, Texas A&M University
Erik Gellman, Roosevelt University

Panel 3: Union Strategies and the Law, 1:45pm-3:15pm
Charles Romney, University of Arkansas, Little Rock
John Weber, Old Dominion University
Michael Pierce, University of Arkansas

Panel 4: Toward a National Synthesis, 3:30pm-5:00pm
Max Krochmal, Texas Christian University
Jarod Roll, University of Mississippi
Sean Crotty, Texas Christian University

Saturday, March 3

Tupelo Room, Barnard Observatory
Tea and coffee served

Panel 5: Symposium respondents respond, 9:30am-10:45am
Steve Striffler, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Brandon Proia, University of North Carolina Press

Panel 6: Reflection and Next Steps, 10:45am-12:15pm
Group discussion on where the project goes from here, potential narrative and structural formats, the next steps for collaboration.

[1] Sue Levine and Steve Striffler, “From Field to Table in Labor History,” LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 12, nos. 1-2 (May 2015): 12.