In 1941, a teenage Addie Wyatt applied for a job as a typist in Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
Black people weren’t needed for office jobs, she was told. If she wanted work, she’d have to roll up her sleeves, and step onto the shop floor — slopping stew into cans.
The Rev. Wyatt took that job, setting her life’s course as a tireless advocate for the rights of women, African-Americans and anyone else she felt wasn’t getting a fair shake in life.
“She always believed in being fair and honest, and she stood for what was right,” said the Rev. Wyatt’s sole surviving sibling, Maude McKay, 74, of Glenwood. “She just couldn’t take injustice.”
The Rev. Wyatt — who would become the first female international vice president of a major American labor union — died Wednesday at Advocate Trinity Hospital, her family said. The Rev. Wyatt, 88, had been in poor health for several years, her sister said.
The Rev. Wyatt was born in 1924, in Brookhaven, Miss., to a schoolteacher mother and a father who worked as a tailor. The family moved north to Chicago during the Great Depression, eventually settling at 42nd and Calumet in Bronzeville.
The Rev. Wyatt attended DuSable High School, where she learned to quietly but forcefully speak her mind, and went to church every Sunday, where she learned many of her guiding principles.
“She could give you a very radical speech about women’s rights . . . and all of her points of departure — no matter where she went — would start from Biblical stories, Biblical quotes,” said Michael Flug, a friend of the Rev. Wyatt’s, who helped persuade her to donate a huge collection of papers, photos and tapes from her life to the Chicago Public Library.