In 1941, a teenage Addie Wyatt applied for a job as a typist in Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
Black people weren’t needed for office jobs, she was told. If she wanted work, she’d have to roll up her sleeves, and step onto the shop floor – slopping stew into cans.
The Rev. Wyatt took that job, setting her life’s course as a tireless advocate for the rights of women, African-Americans and anyone else she felt wasn’t getting a fair shake in life.
“She always believed in being fair and honest, and she stood for what was right,” said the Rev. Wyatt’s sole surviving sibling, Maude McKay, 74, of Glenwood. “She just couldn’t take injustice.”
The Rev. Wyatt – who would become the first female international vice president of a major American labor union – died Wednesday at Advocate Trinity Hospital, her family said. The Rev. Wyatt, 88, had been in poor health for several years, her sister said.
The Rev. Wyatt was born in 1924, in Brookhaven, Miss., to a schoolteacher mother and a father who worked as a tailor. The family moved north to Chicago during the Great Depression, eventually settling at 42nd and Calumet in Bronzeville.
The Rev. Wyatt attended DuSable High School, where she learned to quietly but forcefully speak her mind, and went to church every Sunday, where she learned many of her guiding principles.
“She could give you a very radical speech about women’s rights . . . and all of her points of departure – no matter where she went – would start from Biblical stories, Biblical quotes,” said Michael Flug, a friend of the Rev. Wyatt’s, who helped persuade her to donate a huge collection of papers, photos and tapes from her life to the Chicago Public Library.
The Rev. Wyatt’s labor activities began in the early 1950s, eventually being elected vice president of her local, UPWA Local 56, in 1953. She was soon tapped by Charles A. Hayes, director of UPWA’s District 1, to serve as an international representative. In 1976, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, Flug said.
The Rev. Wyatt was also active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, counting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. among her friends. She also made a name for herself as a vocal supporter of women’s rights. In 1961, Eleanor Roosevelt appointed her to serve on the Protective Labor Legislation Committee of President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women.
The Rev. Wyatt founded – along with her late husband, the Rev. Claude Wyatt – Vernon Park Church of God on the South Side.
In addition to her sister, the Rev. Wyatt’s survivors include a son, Claude Wyatt III of Chicago.
The Rev. Wyatt’s wake will be 9:30 a.m. noon April 7 at the Vernon Park Church of God, 9011 S. Stony Island. A funeral service is set to follow at the church. The burial is set to follow the funeral service at Oak Woods Cemetery, at 67th and Cottage Grove.