In honor of International Women’s Month, the International African American Museum will be highlighting women who have, through their work, made an impact throughout Charleston and/or the state of South Carolina.
Mary Moultrie rose to public recognition in 1969 as an organizer of the Charleston hospital strike that year. A nurse’s assistant at what was then the Medical College of South Carolina, Moultrie was a champion for better pay and working conditions for Black employees at the institution. She later went on to work 30 years for the City of Charleston Department of Recreation and retired in 2005.
As a teenager, she worked for the late civil rights activist, Esau Jenkins. Working at Jenkins’ J&P Restaurant exposed Moultrie to much of what Jenkins advocated – the rights of Blacks. It was that exposure which groomed her for the role she would portray later.
After graduating Burke High, Moultrie attended Morgan State College in Baltimore, Md. After only one semester of college, Moultrie left for New York City where she began working as a nurse. She spent eight years in New York and moved back to Charleston in late 1967.
In 1969, after five Black nurse’s aides were unjustly fired and subsequently reinstated, Moultrie along with several of her colleagues sought to establish a hospital workers association. Since unions were illegal, they decided that they would settle for fair representation and the right to have their concerns taken seriously. MUSC would not oblige the black nurses so Mary helped orchestrate a strike. Black employees at the Medical College and Charleston County Hospital walked off their jobs and stayed home for 113 days.
The strike gained national attention and the workers received assistance from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Local 1199-B hospital workers Union in New York. Eventually, hospital authorities met with the workers and negotiated an agreement that increased workers’ wages, improved working conditions and established grievance procedures.
The legendary Charleston labor union organizer passed away on April 27, 2015. She was 73 years old.