Marching with Dr. King
Ralph Helstein and the United Packinghouse Workers of America
by Cyril Robinson
July 2011, 256pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-38418-9
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-0-313-38419-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Ralph Helstein was an extraordinary individual. Never before had a lawyer who emphasized social justice been chosen to head a major labor organization. Helstein took a defiant stand against McCarthyism unlike any other leader in this unique historical period, doing so by promoting policies that advanced African American and women’s rights. He even served as a personal adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr.

This book shows how a Jewish lawyer utilized his philosophy of prophetic Judaism (a belief in social justice) and his training as a lawyer to become the head of a trade union that formulated policies embodying these social beliefs, bringing many benefits to its members.

In 1946, Ralph Helstein was the general counsel for the United Packinghouse Workers Union (UPWA), which had become a predominantly black worker organization. At the time there was a divisive left-right split in the union. As the only individual both sides trusted, Helstein was elected president of the union, thus beginning an era of positive change for the UPWA and its workers.

Beyond Helstein’s efforts for the UPWA, Marching with Dr. King: Ralph Helstein and the United Packinghouse Workers of America also examines the involvement of Helstein in the civil rights movement, his personal association with Martin Luther King, Jr., and how his actions as union president championed the rights of African Americans, women, and even an immigrant group outside the United States—the sugar workers in Puerto Rico. This text presents a unique perspective on the life of a labor leader, revealing the connection between Helstein’s religious and philosophical ideas with his leadership of the UPWA union.


  • Presents information based largely upon original interviews conducted by the author, the research of historians, and original documents from the UPWA archives
  • Provides a chronological history of the union movement through Helstein's lifetime from the 1920s to the 1980s
  • Includes family photographs and photos of Helstein in various union activity settings such as strikes and meetings
Cyril Robinson is a lawyer and emeritus professor of criminal justice at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL. He has written numerous articles in legal and historical journals regarding criminal justice, criminal law and procedure, police history, and police-community relations. His published works include Greenwood's Police in Contradiction: The Evolution of the Police Function in Society and Legal Rights, Duties, and Liabilities of Criminal Justice Personnel: History and Analysis.
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