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Michael K. Honey, Ph.D.

  • 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in the Humanities
  • Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professor of the Humanities
  • Professor, Labor and Ethnic Studies and American History
University of Washington Tacoma

Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
University of Washington Tacoma
1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma WA 98402-3100


New Book

Sharecropper's Troubadour Book Cover An oral history of John Handcox, who organized black and white farmers alike on behalf of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and became one of the most beloved folk singers of the prewar labor movement. All at one of the hardest times and places to be black in America.

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In the News

Memphis Commercial Appeal: June 19, 2011
Memphis sanitation workers are volatile city budget target
United Press International: April 6, 2011
Scott Walker Budget Law Mimics MLK Assassination Backstory
Michael Honey, Truthout, Editorial: April 4, 2011
We Are One: Remembering Martin Luther King's Struggle for Labor Rights
Labor Notes: April 4, 2011
Wave of Actions Proclaims 'We Are One'
Michael Honey, Colorlines, Editorial: February 23, 2011
King's Fight for Unions Is Still Essential

About Michael Honey

Dr. Michael Honey plays his guitar outside the UW Tacoma library.

Michael Honey is an educator who combines scholarship with civic engagement. He teaches African-American, civil rights and labor history and specializes in work on Martin Luther King, Jr. Honey holds the Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professorship in the Humanities at the University of Washington, Tacoma (UWT) and previously served as the Harry Bridges Chair of Labor Studies for the University of Washington and as President of the Labor and Working-Class History Association.

Honey's work is noted for his extensive use of oral history, deep archival research, and vibrant writing style. The History Book Club called Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign (W.W. Norton, 2007), "a truly great book" and Cornell West deemed it a "magisterial treatment." It won awards from the Robert F. Kennedy Book Foundation, the Organization of American Historians, the Southern Historical Association, and the United Association of Labor Educators. Honey won the University of Washington, Tacoma's Distinguished Research award and the Weyerhaueser Foundation's Martin Luther King Award for community leadership and service. Honey's collection of King's labor and economic justice speeches, titled All Labor Has Dignity (Beacon Press, 2011) is endorsed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as "powerful and inspiring" and not just a testament to King's rhetorical legacy but "a call to action."

Honey's previous award-winning books proved path breaking in linking labor and civil rights histories. Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Unionism, Segregation and the Freedom Struggle (University of California Press, 1999 was called "poignant reading" by economist Gerald Friedman and "eloquent" by historian Bruce Nelson. Many consider his first book, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers (University of Illinois Press, 1993), a classic and a journal reviewer deemed it "among the best and most ambitious recent works on labor in the South."

A southern civil rights and civil liberties organizer from 1970-1976, Honey links scholarship, music, and public speaking with community and labor organizing. He performed his "Links on the Chain" labor and civil rights songs with Pete Seeger, Bettie Mae Fikes and other freedom singers and he has given invited lectures before numerous campus and community organizations (the University of Florida, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Louisville, Northwestern and Seattle Universities, the University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University, the National Labor College, and the AFL-CIO among others).

As a founding faculty member at the University of Washington, Tacoma (1990), Honey helped shape the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program and its Ethnic, Gender and Labor studies major. Students in his Tacoma Oral and Community History project have produced scores of personal histories that are archived and online. His "Underdog Productions" produced short films including one on war resister Lt. Ehren Watada.

Honey has received numerous research grants and fellowships from scholarly organizations. These include the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Research and Conference Center, the Huntington Library, and the Stanford Humanities Center. He has published many scholarly articles in books and journals as well as columns on current issues in mass media (including the Nation, the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Tacoma News Tribune, the Progressive, the History News Network).

Honey is a graduate of Northern Illinois University (Ph.D.), Howard University (M.A.) and Oakland University (B.A.). He lives in Tacoma with his wife Pat Krueger, a professor of music education at the University of Puget Sound.

More on Dr. Honey

Pictures (Click on a picture for full resolution)

2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in the Humanities

News Tribune: April 9, 2011
UWT professor among Guggenheim Fellows
UW Tacoma News: April 13, 2011
Guggenheim award supports study of Depression-era songwriter
UW Today: April 13, 2011
Two UW profs win Guggenheim Fellowships

Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professorship in the Humanities

UW Tacoma Campus News: April 9, 2007
History professor named UW Tacoma's first Haley Professor
News Tribune Editorial: May 17, 2007
A fitting tribute to Tacoma's Haleys

Dr. Honey's Books

This collection of publicly available resources is not intended to be an exhaustive list of Michael Honey's publications or research. Refer to the Curriculum Vitae for full details of his scholarly work.

Sharecropper's Troubadour

book cover: Sharecropper's Troubadour

Descended from African American slaves, Native Americans, and white slaveowners, John Handcox was born to a family of poor Arkansas sharecroppers at one of the hardest times to be black in America. Over the first few decades of the twentieth century, he survived attempted lynchings, floods, droughts, and the ravages of the Great Depression to organize black and white farmers alike on behalf of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. He also became one of the most beloved folk singers of the prewar labor movement, composing songs such as "Roll the Union On" and "There Is Mean Things Happening in this Land" that bridged racial divides and kept the spirits of striking workers high. Though he withdrew from the public eye for nearly forty years, missing the "folk boom" of the 1960s, he resurfaced decades later - just in time to denounce the policies of the Reagan administration in song - and his work was embraced by new generations of labor activists and folk music devotees. This fascinating and beautifully told oral history gives us John Handcox in his own words, recounting a journey that began in a sharecropper's shack in the Deep South and went on to shape the labor music tradition, all amid the tangled and troubled history of the United States in the twentieth century.

"A deeply moving account of the life and struggles of John Handcox who became known as 'the sharecropper's troubadour' for the songs he wrote and sang at union meetings in Arkansas, Mississippi, and throughout the nation. Honey's book is essential reading to understand the history of labor and black music in the rural south."
  --William Ferris, author of The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists

"An arresting account of the exemplary life of an American genius. Honey's and Handcox's voices mix in a unique combination of oral history and scholarly research that reminds us of the centrality of music, and of poetry, to US freedom movements."
  --David Roediger, coauthor of The Production of Difference



Music (Click a song on the playlist below)

"All Labor Has Dignity"

Beacon Press, 2011.

book cover: All Labor Has Dignity edited by Michael K. Honey

People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. As we struggle with massive unemployment, a staggering racial wealth gap, and the near collapse of a financial system that puts profits before people, King's prophetic writings and speeches underscore his relevance for today. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to unions and an end to poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.

Covering all the civil rights movement highlights-Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and Memphis-award-winning historian Michael K. Honey introduces and traces King's dream of economic equality. Gathered in one volume for the first time, the majority of these speeches will be new to most readers. The collection begins with King's lectures to unions in the 1960s and includes his addresses during his Poor People's Campaign, culminating with his momentous "Mountaintop" speech, delivered in support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis. Unprecedented and timely, "All Labor Has Dignity" will more fully restore our understanding of King's lasting vision of economic justice, bringing his demand for equality right into the present.



Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign

W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.

book cover: Going Down Jericho Road by Michael K. Honey

The definitive history of the epic struggle for economic justice that became Martin Luther King Jr.'s last crusade.

Memphis in 1968 was ruled by a paternalistic "plantation mentality" embodied in its good-old-boy mayor, Henry Loeb. Wretched conditions, abusive white supervisors, poor education, and low wages locked most black workers into poverty. Then two sanitation workers were chewed up like garbage in the back of a faulty truck, igniting a public employee strike that brought to a boil long-simmering issues of racial injustice.

With novelistic drama and rich scholarly detail, Michael Honey brings to life the magnetic characters who clashed on the Memphis battlefield: stalwart black workers; fiery black ministers; volatile, young, black-power advocates; idealistic organizers and tough-talking unionists; the first black members of the Memphis city council; the white upper crust who sought to prevent change or conflagration; and, finally, the magisterial Martin Luther King Jr., undertaking a Poor People's Campaign at the crossroads of his life, vilified as a subversive, hounded by the FBI, and seeing in the working poor of Memphis his hopes for a better America.



Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle

University of California Press, 2002.

book cover: Black Workers Remember by Michael K. Honey

The labor of black workers has been crucial to economic development in the United States. Yet because of racism and segregation, their contribution remains largely unknown. Spanning the 1930s to the present, Black Workers Remember tells the hidden history of African American workers in their own words. It provides striking firsthand accounts of the experiences of black southerners living under segregation in Memphis, Tennessee. Eloquent and personal, these oral histories comprise a unique primary source and provide a new way of understanding the black labor experience during the industrial era. Together, the stories demonstrate how black workers resisted racial apartheid in American industry and underscore the active role of black working people in history.

The individual stories are arranged thematically in chapters on labor organizing, Jim Crow in the workplace, police brutality, white union racism, and civil rights struggles. Taken together, the stories ask us to rethink the conventional understanding of the civil rights movement as one led by young people and preachers in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead, we see the freedom struggle as the product of generations of people, including workers who organized unions, resisted Jim Crow at work, and built up their families, churches, and communities. The collection also reveals the devastating impact that a globalizing capitalist economy has had on black communities and the importance of organizing the labor movement as an antidote to poverty. Michael Honey gathered these oral histories for more than fifteen years. He weaves them together here into a rich collection reflecting many tragic dimensions of America's racial history while drawing new attention to the role of workers and poor people in African American and American history.


Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers

University of Illinois Press, 1993.

book cover: Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights by Michael K. Honey

Widely praised when it was first published and now considered a classic by many, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights chronicles the southern industrial union movement from the Great Depression to the cold war, a history that created the context for the sanitation workers' strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis in April 1968. Michael K. Honey documents the dramatic labor battles and sometimes heroic activities of organizers and ordinary workers that helped to set the stage for segregation's demise.



Dr. Honey's Articles & Interviews

News Tribune: September 4, 2009
Labor unions historically blazed the path for health care in U.S.
News Tribune: March 17, 2009
Employee Free Choice Act will provide worker protection
The Progressive: January 19, 2009
What Would King Tell Obama?
Seattle PI: December 11, 2008
Human rights and the economy crisis
News Tribune: November 6, 2008
Grass roots can nourish Obama's goals, nation's needs
News Tribune: August 31, 2008
Economy's strength hinges on US workers
Seattle PI: April 3, 2008
MLK's agenda remains unfinished
Seattle PI: January 16, 2003
What would King say about Iraq war?
Seattle PI: August 22, 2002
Hard-won labor rights are well worth protecting
News Tribune: February 5, 2002
State's college administrators not required to recognize vote of faculty; new law would remedy that
Women's Radio Fund: 1999
Donna Allen's Work Will Live On
Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press: 1999
Donna Allen, Crusader for a Democratic Communications System

Dr. Honey's Music & Film Works

Memphis Strike (Trailer for Going Down Jericho Road)
Quicktime version | Windows Media Player version
A Soldier's Duty? The Ehren Watada Story
A 16-minute film, produced and written by Michael Honey, on Lt. Ehren Watada's challenge to President Bush's invasion and war in Iraq. Underdog Productions, 2006.
George Bush Blues
Copyleft Mike Honey 2003. Melody and lyrics by Mike Honey; arrangement and music by Steve DeTray.

Dr. Honey's Courses

HST 449: Labor and the Civil Rights Movement
Research sources for the course "HST 449: Labor and the Civil Rights Movement."
Contact: mhoney@u.washington.edu
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