Black Firefighters and the FDNY

The Struggle for Jobs, Justice, and Equity in New York City

By David Goldberg

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3362-6
    Published: December 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3363-3
    Published: October 2017

Justice, Power, and Politics

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For many African Americans, getting a public sector job has historically been one of the few paths to the financial stability of the middle class, and in New York City, few such jobs were as sought-after as positions in the fire department (FDNY). For over a century, generations of Black New Yorkers have fought to gain access to and equal opportunity within the FDNY. Tracing this struggle for jobs and justice from 1898 to the present, David Goldberg details the ways each generation of firefighters confronted overt and institutionalized racism. An important chapter in the histories of both Black social movements and independent workplace organizing, this book demonstrates how Black firefighters in New York helped to create affirmative action from the “bottom up,” while simultaneously revealing how white resistance to these efforts shaped white working-class conservatism and myths of American meritocracy.

Full of colorful characters and rousing stories drawn from oral histories, discrimination suits, and the archives of the Vulcan Society (the fraternal society of Black firefighters in New York), this book sheds new light on the impact of Black firefighters in the fight for civil rights.

About the Author

David Goldberg is associate professor of African American studies at Wayne State University.
For more information about David Goldberg, visit the Author Page.


"Traces the shifting arguments made by the workers and the politicians who sought to transform an agency that was fiercely opposed to transformation."--Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

“Provides a relentless display of facts, figures, and insights in narrating this black labor resistance to intransigent white supremacy. He does so with an able collection of archival evidence, oral histories, and a survey of secondary literature, all told as a gripping story that includes some memorable individuals and concludes with a qualified upbeat ending--at least for now.”--American Historical Review

“That we can know so much about Black firefighters in one locale—even during early years in which they constituted a literal handful of workers—is both a pleasant surprise and a tribute to the assiduous research of Goldberg in archives and in the mining of oral histories. The textured evidence, in terms of both policy decisions and personal experiences, is deeply impressive and persuasive. The characters that emerge here are compelling in a way all too rare in labor history.”—David Roediger, author of Seizing Freedom

“By documenting Black firefighters’ experiences in the FDNY, Goldberg illustrates how big-city fire departments became key sites in the fight against racial and economic injustice in the twentieth century and were historically important in consolidating ideals of American national identity, including nativism, racism, and political corruption, but also courage, engaged citizenship, and benevolence.”—Clarence Lang, University of Kansas