Feb 7, 2022 - News

Dorothy Bolden, native Atlantan and domestic worker labor organizer

A colorful mural of Dorothy Bolden, a domestic worker and labor organizer, surrounded by people, a sun, and a MARTA bus

A group of artists painted four murals, including this piece by Fabian Williams in Adair Park, honoring Bolden in 2021. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

Throughout February, Axios Atlanta is profiling lesser-known Black Atlantans who fought for civil and human rights.

  • Today, we focus on Dorothy Bolden, who fought for fair wages and better protections for her fellow domestic workers in Atlanta.

Flashback: In the 1960s, the native Atlantan organized other Black domestic workers in Atlanta at bus stops and during long rides home after even longer days at work. Watching Rosa Parks' famous arrest inspired Bolden, and she knew the role transit could play in activism and organizing.

  • Bolden, who began working as a domestic worker at age 9, lived near Martin Luther King Jr. in Vine City and asked for his help. He urged her to organize the nannies, housekeepers and caregivers to demand better protections, pay and services.

Between the lines: In 1968, she created the National Domestic Workers Union of America, which advocated for better working conditions and taught women how to negotiate with employers for better pay and hours.

Bolden and the workers’ activism helped force MARTA to include more Black people in the transit system’s planning and persuaded the government to include domestic workers in the Social Security program. Members were required to register to vote.

The NDWUA advocated for more than 10,000 members at its height, according to the New York Times. Atlanta mayors sought her support and counsel, and she advised Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

The (literal) big picture: In October, the Georgia chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance commissioned four murals throughout the city honoring Bolden, who died in 2005. An art installation unveiled last year includes bronze sculptures of Bolden, Hosea Williams, Rita Samuels and W.A. Scott sitting on benches. 

  • The Auburn Avenue Research Library has a collection that includes Bolden’s scrapbook, letters and other writings.

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