in the farming community of Dublin during the heart of the depression
and the segregation of Jim Crow Mississippi, Jesse Epps made an
early acquaintance with the struggles of individuals and their families.
He is the second youngest of 15 children. His father was a graduate
of Alcorn University, owned a small farm, and was the first black
man registered to vote in their poll-taxed, racially discriminating
Epps studied labor relations at Syracuse, Rutgers, and Cornell Universities
and has spent the last 40 years fighting for and defending the rights
and conditions of all working men and women. He began his professional
labor experience working for the International Union of Electrical
Workers at Local 320 in Syracuse, NY, where he served as chief steward
and as an executive board member on the Educational and Civil Rights
From 1960-1972 Epps served as assistant to the international president
of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
(AFSCME). In that capacity he assisted in the oversight and direction
of an international field staff of officers and volunteers which
numbered more than 18,000. He personally directed field operations
in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Memphis, Miami, New
Orleans, and New York City, and directed state-wide operations in
Ohio and New York.
It was while he was serving at the AFSCME that Epps was sent to
Memphis in the spring of 1968 to assist in settling the sanitation
workers' strike in that city. Suffering from significantly lower
wages than their white counterparts, practically non-existent benefits,
and inhuman working conditions, the battle cry authored by these
men was simply, "I am a man." In the waning days of this
monumental struggle for simple human dignity and compensation, Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., agreed to the request of AFSCME officials
for the inspiration and exposure that his involvement would lend
to the struggle. The strike ended with the tragic assassination
of Dr. King. In spite of this tragedy, or perhaps as a result of
it, Epps and the AFSCME successfully negotiated a contract for the
1,300 striking sanitation workers.
From 1964-1968 Epps was an advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson's
White House on the participation of young people, students, and
minorities both in the Democratic Party and the government in general.
With Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey serving as co-chairperson,
this team of advisors assisted President Johnson in navigating and
productively involving students and minorities in the governmental
process during those turbulent and struggling social and political
Epps also serves and champions equality, fair treatment, and justice
outside the workplace. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP, reorganizing
its local chapter of Central New York at Syracuse in 1958 and subsequently
serving as its president, as well as serving on the New York state
board of the NAACP. More recently Epps served as co-chairperson
on the Labor and Industry Committee of the Philadelphia Branch,
and currently serves on its Executive Board. Also in New York, Epps
assisted in the organization of the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of Central New York, and also served as a co-chairperson.
While continuing his involvement with the mission of the NAACP,
the AFL-CIO, and other local, national, and international labor
entities, Epps has been involved in the organization or operation
of various other social bodies. Over his lifetime he has served
the Mississippi Voters League, the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.),
and the National Housing Committee of the African Methodist Episcopal
Church. As an appointee of President Johnson, Epps served on a task
force that led to the legislation that established the Office of
Economic Opportunity which is responsible for such current programs
as Head Start.
To be an effective advocate for the people, there is no greater
attribute than to have connectivity to the avenues of power. Through
his tireless efforts over many years of activity in labor and social
causes, Epps has developed such connectivity to influential people
in the arenas of government, politics, labor, and religion. A lifetime
participant, witness and true believer in collective bargaining
as a tool for working people and their families, as well as a citizen
activist and advocate, he has focused his energies in recent years
on establishing the National Union of American Families (NUAF).
The NUAF is essentially a marriage between the two philosophies.
Epps' vision of collective bargaining as a tool for the community
gives working families of all races, colors, creeds control to improve
the quality of life both in the workplace and out.