Abstract: Jobs to Fit My People: Saint Charles Lockett, Ethnic Enterprises, and the Meaning of Economic Justice in 1970s Milwaukee

Crystal M. Moten


In 1970, Saint Charles Lockett, an African-American and self proclaimed ''liberated woman,'' opened a subcontracting company, Ethnic Enterprizes, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lockett's company specialized in employing women who received public assistance and who were the heads of their households. Lockett hoped that Ethnic Enterprizes would provide her workers with the skills they needed to climb the labor ladder and remove themselves from public assistance. Operating a business of this kind was not without its challenges. While Lockett received praise from state officials, community organizations, and local and national news media outlets, leading welfare rights activists criticized and condemned Lockett's business practices. Using archival research, legal research, and newspaper articles, I examine both the ''virtues and vices'' of Saint Charles Lockett's business endeavor. The paper illuminates Lockett's feminist and mother-friendly business practices and illustrates the ways in which she carved out spaces for mothers of color in an industry that historically excluded them from its ranks. Ethnic Enterprizes challenged the meaning of economic justice and forced activists in Milwaukee to seriously consider solutions to the joblessness that haunted poor people, particularly women, in the city. While Lockett's business eventually closed, the conversations it engendered about the connections between business, social responsibility, and economic justice remain as relevant as ever.