ENSLEY--Charles Stephen, President of Local 371 for 26 years, died on Friday afternoon, June 18, 2010, knowing that his wife, sister and nephew were at his side. Born in Birmingham, Alabama 69 years ago, Charles grew up amid the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s. Some of his principles came from his father, John, who in the 1950s led African-American workers against brutal opposition in a long battle for equal pay at the Birmingham News. Charles had unionism, equality and integrity in his DNA. Growing up in Birmingham as the youngest of four children, Charles learned the importance of individual goals and group goals as well. He graduated from Parker High, then the largest black high school in the country, and went on to attend Howard University in Washington, DC, where Stokely Carmichael was a fellow classmate and his instructors included some of the nation's top black professors such as E. Franklin Frazier, Bernard Fall, and Donald McHenry who went on to become the Ambassador to the UN under President Jimmy Carter. Charles Ensley and his wife Annette moved to New York in 1965. He became a caseworker in the Bureau of Child Welfare Bedford-Stuyvesant office and also worked on the side tutoring kids in Harlem and educating welfare rights groups. In 1982, after a hotly contested election, with more than 70% of the vote, he became President of Local 371 and began demanding more democracy and financial accountability in the union. Ensley was an innovative, independent leader with high integrity. He had an amazing sense of humor and a quick wit. He fought with vigor and intelligence and was proud of winning dignity and job protections for his members and never waivered in his steadfast determination to pursue a progressive agenda. He believed that diversity is a major source of the strength of the Union. Black, White and Latino, men and women - blue collar and professional - the common ground is the union and defense of the rights of every single member. Under his leadership as a tough negotiator Local 371 became the "Mighty, Mighty Union" and membership grew from 9,000 to 17,000 members. He received numerous awards for his work, among them the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2001. He served on a number of Boards, including the AFSCME International Executive Board. Ensley who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan enjoyed jazz, theatre, and reading that ranged from Russian literature to the French existentialists, with a particular interest in black history and the development of the black novel. He was a collector of black art and surrounded himself with some of the well known and lesser-known artists from around the world. Ensley is survived by his wife, Annette Ensley; his sister, Barbara Jean Ensley; his two nephews, Bradley Joel Funnye, Clarence Del Monte Funnye, a niece, Imani Austin; and cousins in Portland, Oregon, Denver, Colorado and Austin, Texas. His parents, John and Gladys Ensley, his sister, Mary Elizabeth Goldson and brother John Ensley preceded him in death. Ensley requested that there be no funeral or memorial services. He asked that everyone, particularly Local 371 members, use time, energy and resources in maintaining the Mighty, Mighty Union.
Published in The New York Times on June 22, 2010