History in the Making:  Rory Gamble Named First African American UAW President

UAW President Rory Gamble

Over the weekend, the United Auto Workers Union announced a huge change in leadership. Rory Gamble, who has been credited with playing an integral role in helping to end the UAW-Ford strike, was named acting president.

This announcement comes just days after FBI agents conducted a series of raids including those at the home of former UAW Presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams; a St. Louis UAW hall; and a home Jones had in St. Louis, where he worked before Detroit.

Officials have said that the raids are connected to the same scandal that landed former FCA VP Norwood Jewell in jail.

The UAW released the following statement in response:

“UAW President Gary Jones has asked for a leave of absence, following a vote of the Executive Board. It will be effective Sunday, Nov. 3rd. Vice President Rory Gamble, who recently negotiated the Ford agreement, will serve as acting president and assume full responsibility for the president’s office.”

“The UAW is fighting tooth and nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission. I want to do what’s best for the members of this great union,” Jones said via statement.

Gary Jones, Former UAW President

Gamble who made history by being the first African American to hold this position, is focusing on the work ahead, saying: “Together throughout the last few months, we’ve achieved substantial victories for UAW members and we know that we have more work to do. We want better health care coverage, better salaries and respect for our work. That will not change.”

Although the UAW represents a large number of African American employees this is the first time in its history that there has been an African American President.

Rev. Horace Sheffield, Pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship, recalls:

Rev. Horace Sheffield

“In October 1959, at the UAW Constitutional Convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, my father rose to nominate Willoughby Abner for the Vice Presidency of the UAW, and thereby, if he won, making Abner the first African American to serve on the UAW Board. In his nominating of Abner my father declared, ‘Here it is that I go all over the south representing this union in the civil rights movement, bailing civil rights workers out of jail, and marching to eliminate Jim Crow and alas right here in my own union a black cannot even serve on the board of the UAW. Therefore, I rise today to place into nomination the name of Willoughby Abner for Vice President of the UAW’. 

“It wasn’t until three years later that an African American, Nelson Jack Edwards, was elected to the UAW Board, and 13 years later, that the same person became the first African American Vice President of the UAW. I bring all this back to our attention because as we celebrate this historic event, Rory Gamble becoming the UAW’s first African American President, it’s important for us to note the road that was paved and the shoulders he has had to stand upon for this to come to fruition.

“So today I salute the UAW for its vision to place Rory Gamble in this leadership position, pray for him and for the restoration of the integrity of the UAW, and I trust that through his leadership that the workers and members of the UAW will move forward in solidarity for ‘the union makes us strong.’”

Gamble, a welder fixture repairman, joined the UAW in 1974 when he was hired at the Ford Motor Co. Dearborn (Mich.) Frame Plant. He immediately became active in UAW Local 600 and has since served in numerous elected and appointed positions.

He was elected a vice president of the UAW in June 2018, at the union’s 37th Constitutional Convention in Detroit. Gamble previously served three terms as director of UAW Region 1A.

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