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Charles Cheng Papers

Identifier: LP000956

Scope and Content

This collection is unique to anyone interested in education reforms, social justice and teacher unionism in the 1960s and 1970s. Series 1: Personal and Work Related Files, 1959-1978. The series contains correspondence, obituary and tributes about Cheng, papers from classes Cheng took, work related materials at Harvard and UCLA, white papers, union records pertaining to organizing, desegregation, budgets, convention material and negotiations files. Of note are the files on the WTU and how he and President Simons built the union. Series 2: Speeches and Articles, 1964-1979. The series pertains to Cheng’s speeches and writings. Some are typed and some are handwritten. Series 3: Subject, 1965-1979. The series consists of correspondence, court papers, articles, research and conference papers, newsletters, studies, and interviews. The subject series contains a variety of topics dealing with education, anti-war materials, and civil rights. There are many files on Asian-American history and curriculum development to incorporate minorities into K-12 classes. Files on desegregation run from the general to being focused on Boston and Los Angeles. His work with the Institute for Responsive Education is well documented as are the studies with the National Institute of Education which is a complete look at educational policy decision-making. Series 4: Publications and AV, 1963-1979. This series contains unique publications that focus on Cheng’s interests in the anti-war movement, education, social justice, and unionism. There is also an incomplete run of the magazine Bridge and magazine dedicated to the history and culture of Asian-Americans. The audio tapes are mostly the interviews conducted in Cupertino, California pertaining to a study by the IRE about a strike and community involvement. There is one photograph of Charles Cheng.


  • 1959 - 1979
  • Majority of material found within 1972 - 1978


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


Charles Cheng was an activist for education and the civil rights movement whose life was cut short when he died on May 25, 1979 when American Airlines flight 191 crashed after takeoff from O’Hare Airport. He was 42 years old.

Although his life was short, Mr. Cheng lived a full life. He was born on February 23, 1937 in Akron, Ohio and was raised on the east side of Detroit. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, Cheng became a teacher in Pontiac, Michigan. Charlie became active with gaining collective bargaining rights for teachers in Flint and met Judy Noren, whom he married and they spent their honeymoon in Mississippi registering voters in 1965. He left teaching to become an organizer for the Michigan Federation of Teachers and soon became the assistant to the president of the Washington Teachers Union Local 6 in Washington DC.

While he was working at the WTU, Charles attended Antioch Graduate School of Education earning his masters degree in Education, then he attended Harvard Graduate School for Education to receive his Ed.D in 1975. His Doctoral Thesis was titled “Altering the Collective Bargaining Structure in Public Education: Community Participation in Educational Decision Making” which was voted as one of the three most distinguished by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While in Boston, Mr. Cheng was a research associate at the Center for Urban Studies at Harvard as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University Joint Center for Urban Studies. After his dissertation, Mr. Cheng ended up at the University of California, Los Angeles as an assistant professor in the Department of Education where he continued to become a leading authority on community participation in collective bargaining in public education.

Cheng wrote and spoke constantly about the idea that the community should be involved with the collective bargaining in public education. He believed that the bargaining process had become dominated by “a new class of professionals consisting of union staff, board of education negotiators, and neutral third parties (arbitrators and mediators).” Cheng believed that these new professionals should seek input from the community through open public negotiations or some other means. Cheng was very active as well with desegregation, starting in the 1960s when he attempted to desegregate the Pontiac, MI public schools, he was on a task force in Boston, consulted in Pasadena and was a citizen member for the Los Angeles Unified School District Desegregation Plan. Cheng’s interests also included racial justice, the teaching of the history of African-Americans, Asian-American and American Indians.


13 Linear Feet (13 SB)


Arranged in 4 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-4), Series 2 (Boxes 4-5), Series 3 (Boxes 5-12), and Series 4 (Boxes 13-14). Folders are arranged alphabetically, Series I is broken up by personal files, education and union related work but not into sub-series. Series II-VI are straight alphabetical.


From Dave Elsila and Judy Cheng

Related Materials

William Simons Papers AFT Office of the President Records

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Daniel Golodner on November 2017.
Guide to the Charles Cheng Papers
Processed by Daniel Golodner.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA