With the death of Ora Lee Malone, in the span of several weeks, the Labor Movement lost two of its most dedicated, committed trade unionists. The other was UAW’s Jerry Tucker, who died last month.
Ora Lee was one of a kind: when she got on your case, you just couldn’t say “no.” And few did.
“So many of us have known, loved and learned from Sister Ora Lee Malone for many decades,” said Roz Sherman-Voellinger, vice president, Labor Participation with the United Way.
“She will forever be remembered as a fearless fighter who changed the course of history for low-wage workers, women, children, and minorities, in St. Louis and globally, especially her anti-Apartheid work in South Africa,” Sherman-Voellinger added. In that fight, she was not only instrumental in getting the City of St. Louis and the Missouri Legislature to divest public funds from banks doing business with South Africa, she collected tons of fabric from local manufacturers to be shipped to South Africa so women could make clothes for their families.
Growing up in the segregated south, Ora Lee’s career spanned decades with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, where she became the first African American business representative. Working as a piece worker for the California Manufacturing Company for 19 years, she ultimately helped to organize the plant and became the union’s shop steward.
When she left the plant to become a union representative, her commitment and determination ultimately were recognized by her election as the local’s business manager. She was then invited to be an international union representative and organized textile workers across Missouri and Southern Illinois.
“Ora Lee was a treasure…she did so much activism in her career…standing up for voters’ right, labor rights, human rights. She had a history of standing up for what’s right for the working class,” said Lew Moye, president, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
“She was courageous person, a mentor to me and an inspiration to many African Americans to get involved in our union, attend meeting and learn how union worked. She will be missed,” Moye added.
BEYOND THE UNION
Her commitment to workers didn’t stop with the union.
A champion for the equality of women and African Americans everywhere, Ore Lee was a co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, helped to launch the Women’s Political Caucus with Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan, helped to establish the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the St. Louis chapter of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.
She served her community as a member of the bi-State Development Agency and as a member of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex where she helped establish minority-hiring goals on the Edward Jones Dome during its construction.
Ora, 93, who retired in 1989, died Oct. 30.
She is survived by two sisters and three brothers. Burial was in the Calvary Cemetery.