March 2014

Charleston Hospital Strike

In December 1967, Mary Moultrie, a worker at the Medical College of Charleston hospital and some of her coworkers began complaining to their supervisors of workplace discrimination and low wages, demanding “respect as human beings.” When their complaints did not lead to improvements, Mary and other employees began discussing a strike.

On March 20, 1969, 400 black hospital workers at the Medical College of South Carolina and Charleston County Hospital went on strike to protest the firing of 12 employees and to call for higher wages and union recognition. The hospital strikers were mainly women, some of whom earned below the federal minimum wage while white hospital workers performing the same job were paid higher wages. Governor McNair, citing state law, refused to recognize the attempts to unionize. State government and hospital boards argued that workers receiving pay from public funds could not engage in collective bargaining.

The strike attracted national attention when Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leader Ralph Abernathy and Coretta Scott King marched with the striking workers. The strike lasted until June 27, 1969, when the workers and hospital administrators reached an agreement. Some of the workers’ demands were met, but the union was never recognized.

Coretta Scott King marching with strikers, Local 1199 Photo courtesy of Avery Research Center, Charleston, SC