“It was an important place…”
After working 41 years for Bethlehem Steel, Alphonso McNiell, Sr. retired in 2001 and has maintained active membership with the union on the Board of Retirees. After finishing high school, Alphonso left his home in North Carolina to start his job as a laborer at the tin mill. “When I walked in the mill, I had never seen anything like it – never dreamed anything like the mills. All the noise, and it was just… it was just exciting and I was glad to get the job.” During the 1959 strike, Alphonso was laid off for a little while before he took on his new job at the hot mill. He is socially conscientious and an involved advocate for equality and civil rights after having observed the racial segregation that penetrated the mill. Alphonso reflects, “I just think about the segregation they had down there and how much it has changed. When I left in ’01, there was still prejudice down there, I guess there always will be in the world, there is going to be some prejudice someplace, but you just have to live through it.” Alphonso remained at the hot mill and achieved the top position in the department before his retirement. (Written by Jennie Williams, Maryland Traditions intern and UMBC student)
My name is Alphonso McNiell. I worked at Bethlehem Steel for 41 years. I’m originally from North Carolina. I left North Carolina to come up here to find a job at Bethlehem Steel. We were hired as laborers and at the time blacks could only do the labor jobs.
They wouldn’t let you go up on the union or anything like that, so we just did the labor. You had the blacks and you had the whites. You didn’t have no friends that were white. All the whites, they were friends, and the blacks were friends. We had a separate locker-room. We had a black locker-room and a white lock but eventually that changed and they put us changing in the same locker-room and a lot of the white guys, they wouldn’t even change their clothes. They would just go home dirty rather than change their clothes with us, but eventually it rubbed off on them and they come on back and started changing clothes.
And as time went on, things changed and we could move up on the jobs and do the jobs that the white guys had done and after I was there 40 years, I finally got the top job on the hot mill and that’s where I retired from.
I just think about the segregation down there and how much had changed. When I left there in 01, there was still prejudice down there. I guess there always will be in the world. There’s going to be some prejudice someplace, you just have to live through it. Bethlehem Steel was good to me, I got to say that. It was an important place, it was, yes. (Edited by Shannon Kim)