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Labor leader Frank Jenkins honored with UW fellowship

Special to The Stand

SEATTLE (Aug. 17, 2018) — Frank Jenkins Jr. was the grandson of a runaway slave, first son of a Buffalo Soldier, a native Filipino and one of Seattle’s first African-American labor leaders. He worked for nearly half a century as a longshoreman and member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Now, a new $250,000 fellowship at the UW Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies has been established in his name. The Jenkins Fellowship in Labor Studies will honor and preserve Jenkins’ lifelong commitment to the causes of social and economic justice through financial support for students at the UW.

“A fellowship in Frank’s name will honor him … and memorialize his contribution to the Seattle waterfront,” friend and former longshoreman Robert Duggan said. Duggan, 85, is a member of the class of 1954 and president of the UW Alumni Association in 1988-89. “Frank started on the waterfront at a time when workers were considered unskilled labor and easily replaced. At his retirement in the ’70s he had led the establishment of practices and procedures resulting in longshore workers being highly skilled and highly paid. He had the foresight to see how cranes and containers would change the industry and the nature of the work.”

Jenkins was born in 1902 in San Francisco and his family moved to Seattle in 1909. In 1918, Jenkins quit Queen Anne High School to start working on the bustling waterfront. It was there that he developed a reputation as a skilled longshoreman and union negotiator. He also helped break color barriers among union leadership.

“Frank was a very bright, articulate and charismatic, with natural leadership abilities,” Duggan said. “Fellow workers recognized this by electing him as their spokesman for 35-plus years.  The people on the other side of the table always wanted to know what Frank thought.”

The fellowship will honor Jenkins’ legacy through annual financial awards to students at the UW who have dedicated their education to the pursuit of labor and civil rights.

“Jenkins put his heart and soul into a union that dramatically changed social norms by placing men of all different ethnicities and races side by side in the workforce,” said Michael McCann, director of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and professor of political science at the UW. “An endowed fellowship in his name will recognize emerging leaders following in Frank’s footsteps.”

A majority of the fellowship was contributed by ILWU Local 19. A ceremony honoring Jenkins and officially kicking off the fellowship was held Friday, Aug. 10. The Harry Bridges Center anticipates soliciting applications in the spring, with the first annual fellowship awarded in fall of 2019.

“The fellowship will honor Frank but it is a two-way street,” said Duggan. “The University will be honored by having Frank Jenkins as part of the Bridges Chair. Workers who were not born at his death contributed $250,000. That impresses me and shows the power of what Frank did for his fellow workers.”


For more information, contact Andrew Hedden, associate director of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, at

This article previously appeared in the UW Today Blog and is cross-posted here with the author’s permission.

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