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Ah Quon “AQ” McElrath (1915-2008), was an intellectual force who gave voice to Hawaiʻi’s working class, and helped power a labor movement based on racial equality that transformed Hawaiʻi from a semi-feudal oligarchy to a modern labor democracy. 


Born to immigrant Chinese parents and raised in extreme poverty, she became one of Hawaiʻi’s most influential leaders, helping shape the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) into a powerful force for social change. After retirement from the union, she continued to work tirelessly for social and economic justice. She championed universal health care, education, press freedom, civil and human rights. 


Her lifelong leadership in education resulted in an appointment to the University of Hawaiʻi’s Board of Regents.

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AQ the Film

By exploring her life, the Ah Quon McElrath Project documents some of Hawaiʻi’s most important history and demonstrates how one woman’s compassionate determination helped to lift thousands of families out of poverty. 


Her remarkable story is inextricably tied to critical historical events. Her life journey encompasses not only the rise of labor unions in Hawaiʻi, but reveals the selfless and heroic sacrifices of a generation of working people. 


Her story chronicles the labor movement’s achievement of decent hours, decent pay, safe working conditions, and a voice in the direction of Hawaiʻi's future for working class people.

AQ the film

AQ the film

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Why should I support the AQ Project? 

With your support, we will create a documentary that preserves forever the life story of this extraordinary woman! Through rare and fascinating footage, we will illustrate the struggle of those who labored on plantations, on docks, and in hotels and factories.


​ The Project will maintain a robust website that allows free access to the documentary, to our complete interviews for the documentary and other projects, and to our educational materials about Hawaiʻi history and culture. In addition, we will create curriculum materials for classroom use to insure that this important history is not lost in the chasm of time. These components build on three decades of video documentation of Hawaiʻi’s plantation culture and labor history captured by the Center for Labor Education & Research (CLEAR) at the University of Hawaiʻi - West Oʻahu.