The story of Chicago Insulated Wire (later Anaconda) is complicated. In 1917, Sycamore manufacturing company, Chicago Insulated Wire was in the news. Recognizing a labor shortage, the company’s manager said that they did “not intend, nor did they ever intend, to bring . . . negroes from the south or from any other place to Sycamore to work in their factory” (Sycamore True Republican, July 21, 1917). However, this factory was within walking distance of the traditionally Black neighborhood and employed numerous Black men and women over the years.
In 1945, the company newsletter, Wire Crier, featured Wever Johnson [note his name was often spelled wrong, the correct spelling is Wever], in their “One of Us” column. He was a Black employee originally from Georgia. His brother-in-law urged Johnson to join him in Sycamore and work at Chicago Insulated Wire. A few days later, the company sent him a railroad ticket. He admitted it was “hard at first,” with his family still in Georgia, but they eventually moved to Sycamore. Anaconda ultimately employed his wife and daughter, too.
Wever Johnson was also very active in the American Legion and was awarded life-time membership in 1955. He served at the Legion as the Sergeant in Arms for over 21 years.
Victor Harris is another Black man who was included in the “One of Us” column: “Harris is almost the ‘forgotten’ man of Anaconda, and that’s a shame because a man with such a big, friendly smile and such a courageous spirit should be right where he could set an example for the rest of us.”
Harris was born in Georgia, and moved to Chicago and Evanston before meeting a woman from Sycamore. However, soon after he was married in 1925, he was in an accident which cost him both of his legs. After several months, he returned to Anaconda on his prosthetic legs. During this time, Harris also dedicated himself to becoming a minister, and eventually becoming the pastor of North Avenue Baptist Church.
The article continues, “Vic’s grit and determination and his remarkable success in overcoming a great handicap should be an inspiration to everyone.”
Several other articles in the “Wire Criers” provide small clues about Blacks who worked at Anaconda.
In 1942, there was a “Popularity Contest” where four people were selected as candidates for the title of ‘Most Popular’ at the Defense Plan. One of the four was Sandy Parker. The articles explains he was “Born in Kentucky in 1881. His father was a minister and Sandy, too, has been a minister. Has one son in the Army, one working at Anaconda, and two other boys. Took over the job as janitor at the Defense Plant in June 1943, when Cecil Caldwell, the former janitor entered the army.”
Other Anaconda newsletters also included information about their employees in the service during World War II. This included several Black men.
Private Cecil Caldwell [bottom right] stationed in San Francisco was included in the March 1945 “Stars in our Banner” section of the Wire Crier.
Private William Bridgewater [bottom left], stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington is featured in the June 1945 Wire Crier.
Oscar Whitlock is included in a group photo on the bottom left during the August 1945 newsletter.
Stories connected to daily life outside the factory also made it into the Anaconda newsletters. In November 1945, Oscar Whitlock’s 8-month old son [top left] was included in the “Looking Around” column.
A 1979 Anaconda ad highlights the story of Cecil Caldwell. “Like Cecil Caldwell, a lubricator, who for the past 40 years has helped our Sycamore plant produce a magnet wire and power cable to meet growing customer needs. At Anaconda, we salute the dedication of Cecil Caldwell and the other Sycamore area residents who work with him at 421 California Street”( October 30, 1979).