Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Late Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson, First African American Female in the United States To Be Treasurer of a Major Union, American Newspaper Guild, Would Be 98 Years of Age Today

Black Buzz News Service
Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson Project
Saunders Archives
Pittsburgh, PA
December 10, 2013

Picture of Beatrice Saunders Robinson at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco in 1959.  The American Newspaper Guild National Convention was held in San Jose in 1959.  The Guild Convention members and their families had taken a trip to San Francisco from San Jose to have dinner at the Fisherman's Wharf.  Mrs. Robinson is the mother of Thomas John Saunders, Jr. and Ronald B. Saunders.

Pictured is the crowning of the queen of the Pittsburgh Local of the American Newspaper Guild prior to the annual national convention which was held in Pittsburgh in 1951.   Crowning the queen is Jean O'Toole, an officer of the Pittsburgh Local.  Seated on the right is Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson who was treasurer of the Pittsburgh Local and chairman of the Pittsburgh Courier Unit of the American Newspaper Guild.

Pictured are the officers of the Pittsburgh Guild of the American Newspaper Guild during the National Convention which was held in Pittsburgh, PA in 1951.  Pictured from left to right are: Jean O'Toole who represented the Pittsburgh-Sun Telegraph, Helen M. Minear, secretary of the Pittsburgh Local, Beatrice L. Saunders, treasurer of the Pittsburgh Local and chairman of The Pittsburgh Courier Unit, standing behind Mrs. Saunders is Dave Welty who represented the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who also became the press secretary for Mayors Pete Flaherty and Richard Caliguiri, and seated on the end is Ethel Cobb who also represented the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The person's name seated next to Mrs. Saunders is unknown.
Lorraine Robinson, who would later become Mrs. Clifton Brown, and who was also employed by The Pittsburgh Courier, stated that in the late 1940's, The Pittsburgh Courier employees selected Beatrice Saunders to be the chairman of Pittsburgh Local of the American Newspaper Guild because she was trustworthy, highly intelligent  and would fight for the employees' rights in a quiet, dignified manner.
Ronald Saunders recalls overhearing his mother, Beatrice Saunders at a sub-committee meeting of the American Newspaper Guild at the National Convention held in Albany, New York in 1955 make the following statement: 'The Pittsburgh Courier employees have to pay the same for bread and butter and other staples as the other employees of the of Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette'. (Lorraine Robinson later married Clifton Brown, brother of the late Ray Brown who was the most famous bassist in jazz history).
Beatrice L. Saunders who later became Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson represented all The Courier reporters, editorial writers, all photographers such as the late Teenie Harris, Sports Editors such as Bill Nunn Jr, clerical staff and support staff.  Note that Mrs. Saunders represented Edna Chapell who later became Dr. Edna McKenzie and who was the first Black female reporter at The Pittsburgh Courier.  The other Courier employees such as the pressmen, printers, lithograph operators and truck drivers were represented by Jimmy Hoffa's teamsters.
One should be cognizant of the fact that the vast majority of Black newspapers during the 1930's through the 1950's were openly hostile to the unionization of their employees.  But Mrs. Robert L. Vann, who was forward and progressive in her thinking and who preceded her husband, Mr. Vann in the ownership of The Pittsburgh Courier, welcomed the unionization of her business.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette employees today owe a lot to the efforts of another female pioneer in the Pittsburgh labor movement and in the national labor movement and that is Helen M. Minear who was the secretary (business agent) of the Pittsburgh Local of the American Newspaper Guild for many years.  It is a fact that Helen M. Minear worked in concert with Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson set the stage to obtain the highest standard of living and better working conditions for today's employees.

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