Charles Vernon Stewart, III
A pioneer in desegregating the electrical trade, the first African American admitted to an electrician trade school, and a successful Chicago business owner.
Stewart was raised in an era where electrical work was popularly thought to be a white man’s job.
Unable to receive self-education study materials from publishers, Stewart and his stepfather, Sam Taylor, began their studying with an underground movement of educating blacks in electrical trade when Stewart was the age of 11.
Stewart was the first African American admitted into Greer College, a trade school for electricians. In 1922, he assisted Taylor in establishing the Taylor Electric Company and five years later became the first African American to graduate from Greer College.
Black electricians in Illinois were not allowed to join the local union and often faced severe vandalism from competing white electricians, which forced them to redo work at their own expense.
Stewart organized a group of black electricians and successfully appealed to the government to grant a charter, which would allowed them not only legal rights to practice as electricians, but also legally stopped competing electricians from destroying their work.
It was not until 1943 that Congress forced the local union to desegregate and both Stewart and Taylor were among the first three percent to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 134.
Stewart was hired by Berry Electric in 1942 and soon became the first black foreman for one of the largest electrical contractors in Chicago.
Charles Stewart passed away on February 13, 2006 at the age of 95.
Story credit to: https://blog.cityelectricsupply.com/electricians-trade-black-history-family-history/ and https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/charles-stewart-iii