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Isaac Myers

Labor organizer, businessman, shipbuilder

Sun Reporter

February 12, 2007

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Isaac Myers
1835-1891

Isaac Myers was born in Baltimore on January 13, 1835, to poor free parents. Myers was educated by the Rev. John Forte, a Methodist Minister. At the age of 16 he was apprenticed to James Jackson, to learn ship caulking, and at the age of 20 he superintended the caulking of some of the largest clipper ships. In 1860 he entered the employment of Woods, Bridges & Co., wholesale grocers, and became their chief porter and shipping clerk. In 1865 Myers returned to the shipyard just in time for a dock strike that left more than 1,000 black longshoremen and mechanics out of work because of their color.

This was the catalyst that drove Myers to organize a stock company. The goal was to raise enough money to open a shipyard that would employ Baltimoreans, regardless of color. The proposition was submitted to a number of merchants, who promised them work, and a meeting was held in all the black churches of Baltimore. Within four months $10,000 dollars was raised.

In 1866, Myers purchased for $40,000 a huge waterfront plant that included a fully equipped shipyard and marine railway, the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Drydock Co. of Baltimore. Myers soon won a $50,000 government contract. The company operated until 1884.

Myers, a politically active Republican, was appointed a special agent at large at the post office department. e made several important arrests before retiring in 1879, when he briefly opened a coal yard. Myers was appointed a United States gauger, an inspector of bulk goods for the port in 1882. That same year Myers became editor of the "Colored Citizen," a weekly paper in Baltimore.

Myers issued a call for a national labor convention of colored men which met in Washington in 1871. It remained in session for five days and formed a national plan for the educational and industrial organization of colored people and elected Myers president. Within six months a state organization was formed in nearly every state, and the first black national labor union was born.

Myers was an incredibly active organizer and leader. He was president of the Maryland Colored State Industrial Association. He also organized and was president of the Colored Business Men's Association, the Colored Building and Loan Association of Baltimore, and the Aged Ministers Home of the A.M.E. Church. Myers was a member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church. In June 2006 the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park opened in Fells Point.

www.douglassmyers.org

--Paul McCardell