"They're Taking Our Jobs!"

By Chris Lahr

In some ways not a lot has changed in the last 100 years in our country. With the resurgence of talk about getting rid of the immigrants from our country (because they are taking “our” jobs, or they are using up “our” resources), I am reminded of an event I learned about in my own hometown in 1918, that I think is relevant to our country today. In December of 1918, 328 white men living in the small Midwest town filed a petition to have the African Americans living in “their” town and working in “their” factory to be removed.

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I found the actual petition (as well as several articles about the petition) signed by over 300 citizens of that small town to have all African Americans driven out of town.[1]  Here is the actual petition from December 31, 1918…

 

 

The Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper wrote the following about the petition,

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Huntington, IND--- Mayor Charles McGraw received a petition signed by 328 white persons asking that “Huntington Negro population deportment.” The population of this city is largely composed of foreigners. The clamour for the dismissal of our people was said to have been started by the Germans and Austrians, who first objected to the men being employed by a local foundry to do war work. The citizens have been so bitter in their denunciation of our people that trouble is feared. (August 25, 1919 Chicago Defender)

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In the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette on January 9, 1919 we learned that the underlying issue behind the petition was that the white men living in the town believed the 8 African Americans working at the local factory had actually taken “white men’s jobs.” 

 

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In the Ft. Wayne News and Sentinel on January 11, 1919 the following article was found showing that more than 200 men (white) protested and walked out on the job because the president of the company did not give them an answer to their demands to have the 8 African-American workers deported.  As a result the African American workers quit and moved out of town before things turned violent. 

Like I said, I fear not much has changed in our society as the Attorney General of the United States declared that DACA, a program that allowed immigrants who were brought here as children, freedom from deportation. As part of the reasoning for eliminating the program he stated, “The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

 There it is again… fear of losing “our” jobs. What if we expanded this notion of “us” to include “others”? Maybe the problem isn’t that they are "taking our jobs,"(which in most cases is not happening) but that they are not considered a part of us.  Have we forgotten that we are a nation of immigrants? For those calling themselves Christians… as a follower of Jesus, caring for the poor, widow and immigrant is not an option; it is a part of our identity. Racism will never cease if we are not able to redefine “us and them” and stop the practice of “othering” people.

[1] Common Council Record E-1, City of Huntington, January 14, 1919

Chris and Lara Lahr live in Philadelphia, where they raise three daughters. They have been married twenty years, with 17 of them taking place in the city, where they reside. Lara is a community nurse working with babies and mamas in their neighborhood. She is currently going to school to become a midwife. Chris works with a non-profit called Timoteo (www.timoteosports.org). Timoteo is a mentoring program that uses flag football as a means of mentoring urban youth. Timoteo serves over 300 youth in the neighborhood and over 150 adults. The Lahr’s are strong believers that they are called to be neighbor’s (instead of missionaries), which calls them to celebrate, struggle, worship, and live life in the neighborhood they serve. Chris is a graduate of Asbury Seminary and Eastern College. Lara is a graduate of Asbury College. 

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