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The Ah Quon McElrath Project

January 14, 2019
  • Ah Quon McElrath

The production team:

Victoria Kneubuhl, Joy Chong-Stannard and Chris Conybeare

Any questions, please contact: 

Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer
Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR), UH West O‘ahu
t: 808.225.6288

A force to be reckoned with

Ah Quon McElrath (1915-2008), aka “AQ,” was one of the most important labor and community leaders in Hawai‘i’s history. She was born to working-class, Chinese immigrant parents. Her early years of poverty and struggle shaped her thinking on issues of race, class, gender and culture. 

Her brilliance and determination resulted in admission to the University of Hawai‘i (UH) in the 1930s. At UH, she volunteered for activities related to the labor movement, which was becoming a force that was challenging Hawai‘i’s oligarchic political economy.  After graduation, she continued this involvement and was one of a handful of women who helped organize the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Hawai’i.  She later became the union’s social worker, holding this position until her retirement in 1981.

The first multiracial union in Hawai‘i

She helped forge an organizing strategy that would create the first multiracial union in Hawai‘i, one that depended on supporting and advancing leadership from each of the racial groups that comprised the Hawai‘i workforce.  She developed a pragmatic leadership style that enabled her ideas to bear fruit, despite the lack of gender equity and the presence of many strong male leaders. 

Opportunities for workers and their families

As a social worker, she helped develop comprehensive and innovative health and drug plans for union members and educational opportunities for workers and their families so that they might improve their conditions.  After retirement in 1981, she worked tirelessly as a lobbyist and community advocate for the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in our community.  She also served on the UH Board of Regents. 

AQ was an unstoppable force, whose life and place in our state’s history needs to be preserved and told to inspire future generations!  Please help us bring her story to life.

Your gift will support multi-platform educational experiences:

  • One-hour television documentary
  • Interactive website
  • Curriculum support material housed at UHWO
  • General education and social media mini-documentaries

Questions? / More Information

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.