Struggles in Steel

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Ray Henderson was outraged when a local television station did a program about the closing of a major steel mill in Duquesne, outside of Pittsburgh. Henderson, who had worked for eighteen years at the mill, was angry that the images and voices of a significant group of workers were absent. No blacks appeared on the program, even though African-American workers had formed a critical part of the labor force in western Pennsylvania for 125 years.

A civil-rights worker and fighter for equal rights on the job, Henderson approached his white friend from high school, Tony Buba, now a noted independent filmmaker, to collaborate on a history to recognize the contribution of blacks to not only the steel industry but the development of solidarity itself. Armed with passion, commitment, no money, and only a consumer Hi-8 camera, Henderson and Buba began interviewing black steelworkers, including some women, who had experienced and continually fought the deep racism pervading both the industry and the union. The mills were not integrated until 1974!

Because the American stereotype of the black male precludes the work ethic and undercuts any healthy sense of community, Henderson’s and Buba’s Struggles in Steel is doubly valuable. Through eloquent living witnesses and revelatory archival footage, it sets straight the hard and enduring record of blacks in American labor. It also provides real role models for a cohesive society, “our mothers and fathers,” as Henderson notes, “who worked hard every day.” Struggles in Steel is grass roots and essential.

— Lawrence Kardish

Screening Details

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