Statement on the Passing of Reverend James E. Orange
February 20, 2008
UNITE HERE mourns the loss of Rev. James E. Orange, a leader in the civil rights and labor movements and a fighter for working people.
“James was the real connection between the labor and civil rights movements in the South,” explains UNITE HERE General President Bruce Raynor. “He personally built the bridge between the two movements for progressive change in the Southern States from the 1960s through today. Person by person, meeting by meeting, march by march, thousands of current and former UNITE HERE members owe James a debt for helping organize workers, win fights and inspire us all.”
Rev. Orange, whose father was fired from his job for union activity in the 1950’s, worked as an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the civil rights movement. He helped organize nonviolent marches during some of the most explosive moments of the civil rights movement.
Rev. Orange was arrested more than 100 times for picketing or acts of civil disobedience. His arrest in Selma, Alabama in 1965 is considered one of the catalysts that prompted the first Selma-to-Montgomery march that ended on Bloody Sunday.
Starting in the 1970’s until recently, Reverend Orange worked as an organizer in the labor movement for various unions and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. In 1977, he worked on the organizing campaign of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, a predecessor union of UNITE HERE, that won union representation and benefits for the workers at J.P. Stevens textile and clothing factories. He was an organizer director, leader and inspiration for scores of other textile and apparel campaigns in the South, including the Pillowtex and Cannon Mills campaigns.
Reverend Orange did not like to fly, so he would drive through the night to make round the clock shift meetings at the various plants where he was helping workers organize.
“James never turned us down for an organizing campaign meeting or rally, or anything we would ask him to lead us through, because he was first and foremost an inspiration to all of us to fight for a better world in a selfless way,” says President Raynor.
Rev. Orange was a leader in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He founded the M.L. King Jr. March Committee-Africa/African American Renaissance Committee, through which he organized Atlanta’s annual King Holiday march and promoted trade between the U.S. and South Africa. He was also active in the immigrants’ rights movement, participating in actions and protests that sought paths to U.S. citizenship.
“Reverend Orange was one of the leaders of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride where he played a critical role in assuring that the energy and activity of this new project was consistent with the proud tradition of the African American Freedom Rides. Reverend Orange was insistent that these weren’t just related efforts, but in fact part of the greater movement for civil rights and justice,” says John W. Wilhelm, President/Hospitality Industries, UNITE HERE! “Working with him was a source of great inspiration and I will miss him.”
“Leading with his broad shoulders, this gentle giant fought the powers of corporate greed and reactionary politicians from Mississippi to North Carolina for over 50 years, always providing strength and encouragement to the powerless,” says President Raynor. “He will be missed in person, but he lives on in our hearts and minds, marching and signing