Celebrating Black History
By Princess Hill
Richard C. Russell was born Feb. 27, 1931 to the late Harold and Helen Russell in West Palm Beach, Fla. He attended Industrial High School where he played every sport; he loved basketball and football the most. On Oct. 25, 1950 Russell married the love of his life, Claretha. This year will mark 65 years of marriage. To this union three beautiful daughters were born, Diana, Dione, and Elaine.
Russell started as a longshoreman in 1947 in West Palm Beach, which is now Riviera Beach Fla. During that time, racism was alive and feared amongst Black people. He re-called having a curfew. Once it turned dark you had to be on the Black side of the tracks. If caught out past curfew the dangers to face were unknown. In December of 1953 they moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He has been with ILA Local 1526 since then.
Russell is one of the Pioneers of Local 1526. He was there when roll calls and meetings were held outside President Simmons’ home, then later to McBride Lodge, and finally here on Sistrunk. He started under Alfred “Uncle Ben’ Evens; at that time it was considered the Bahamian Gang. His uncle, Calvin Russell, was also a longshoreman and together they built the stage in the Union Hall in 1968. He pays homage to his uncle for teaching him everything from carpentry to saving money. He also worked alongside the Wilsons, Hills, Waldens, Walkers, and Bynes.
At a time when technology was very limited, everything was done by hand. It wasn’t an easy job, and a lot of people tried but didn’t make it. Everything took manpower. Every item, container, and 60-gallon drum filled with oil, cement, nails, steel, fertilizer, meat and fruit was lifted off the ship by hand. They helped each other and looked out for each other. They were a family. Sometimes you would only get to work four hours out of the week. With a family at home, it wasn’t easy, but they made it work. They took turns, giving each other a chance when work was slow and limited. Russell said, “If someone was sick, the next day someone would take off so that person could make up their time.”
In 1968, Russell became a header under the Clayton Roland Administration. He stated, “This was the best job I ever had.” Now he is remembered as “one of the best headers at the Port”. He would tell his gang to work at a steady pace, take your time, and to work as a team and not against each other. He was highly respected by Local 1526 and management at Stevedoring. Russell recalls himself and Jean Wilson running the Port back in those days. The dress code that the porters wear today is because of Russell and Jean Wilson. They wanted everyone to look good and represent the Local 1526.
In 1974, Russell got injured and retired, but he was never too far from the Local 1526. He still resides in his home just a couple miles away. Enjoying his beautiful wife Claretha, who organized the Ladies Auxiliary, daughters Diana Johnson, Dionne Gardner and Elaine Davis, two grandchildren Joshua Richard Lyons and Charl’ey Johnson-Davis, two great grandchildren Rayjon and Charda’ Davis.
This month we salute and honor Richard Russell for his labor, hard work and dedication to the ILA Local 1562.