It’s In My Blood to Demand More: Black women’s struggle for equal pay

Natalie Murdock lives in Durham.
Natalie Murdock lives in Durham. Contributed photo

Imagine working hard all day to feed bright, young minds in the local elementary school cafeteria and only having 90 cents an hour in your pay check.

Your husband is a construction worker, but it’s winter and work is not steady. You have five hungry mouths to feed daily.

That was the story of my grandmother, Dorothy Jackson Murdock, an African-American woman, in the 1960s. She worked hard as a cafeteria worker at Bluford Elementary School, located in Greensboro, NC. She loved to cook and was active in her local community.

Inspired by the national civil rights movement and by her daughters who marched with the historic Woolworth Four, she walked into work one day and told her co-workers to put their utensils down.

“We are not working today,” she said. “We are going to strike for better pay.”

My grandmother, her co-workers and friends formed a picket line outside. They made appeals to Greensboro City Schools to increase their pay to $2 an hour. As the strike went on, people became scared and tired. Afraid of retaliation, but determined to succeed, they worked with local churches to keep food on their tables at home and their bills paid.

After weeks of protesting, they were successful and received an increase to $2 an hour. Eventually it increased again to $3 an hour.

My grandmother marched for higher wages in the 1960s. Today we continue to fight for higher wages for all women, but particularly for women of color whose wages are often much lower.

According to The National Partnership for Women and Families, “in the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) with the largest numbers of Black women working full time, year-round, pay for Black women ranges from 47 to 69 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in those states.”

On Black Women Equal Pay Day, and each day, let’s remember that we all have so much work to do to ensure that hard working women across the world receive equal pay for equal work.

For single mothers, pay checks must stretch even further. It has been shown that more than a third of African-American children in the United States live with unmarried mothers. The wage gap must be closed as the urgency couldn’t be more evident.

Let’s be inspired by and follow models such as the one implemented in Boston. CEOs and managers have worked together to increase the wages of women through mentoring, sharing best practices and by changing local policies. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh supported the formation of a Women’s Workforce Council to identify barriers and cases for wage gaps. The city also sponsors free salary negotiation workshops. “The city has also trained over 7,000 women in salary negotiation, with a goal of training an additional 78,000 by 2021,” according to the New York Times, 2018. This was culminated by the passage of the Equal Pay law that went into effect on July 1.

We all have a responsibility to speak up when we see an injustice. Just as my grandmother has done as well as other leaders like her, we can collectively work together to close these wage gaps.

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Natalie Murdock lives in Durham.