RILEY, LEONARD JR. - INTERVIEWEE

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RILEY, LEONARD JR. - INTERVIEWEE

Transcript of oral history interview, 19 September 2013.
Interviewed by Kerry Taylor, from The Citadel's Oral History Initiative.
Language: This interview is in English.
Transcript 31 p.
Final copy prepared November 2017.

Abstract
Longshoreman and civil rights unionist Leonard Riley, Jr., was born on August 27th, 1952, in Charleston, South Carolina. A lifelong resident of West Ashley, Riley and his family owned several acres of land. In addition to farming, his father also worked seasonal jobs to be able to provide for his five children. Leonard Riley, Sr., was the family's first member to work the waterfront. Later, his sons, Leonard and Kenneth, followed in his footsteps and became union leaders at the ILA local 1422. At the age of eighteen, the summer before beginning his first year of college, Riley had his first experience as a longshoreman. His first day at work left an indelible memory. Riley recalls, "Yeah, that was—that first day was unbelievable. I thought I was going to die, literally, cramping—all the bottoms of your feet cramping. I'll never forget that day: hands chafed out by getting blisters on the hands. But these guys were used to it, so it didn't bother them. They dragged me through that day." He began his studies at the College of Charleston the following fall, and each summer he worked at the docks. But though he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, soon after graduation he realized he truly enjoyed his job at the port. In addition to providing a good income, the job helped him to emerge as a young leader among his co-workers. Reflecting on years past, Riley stresses that the maritime industry has changed drastically due to automatization and stresses the union's crucial role in protecting the workers in a changing landscape. He remembers the strike against Nordana Shipping Line in 2002 and the confrontation that ended with the arrest of five workers. This conflict generated national and international attention and was resolved with the help and solidarity of Spanish dockworkers who forced the company to negotiate. Finally, Riley explains that longshoring has been historically a black industry that can be traced to the years of slavery.

A2010.023.20

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