Rereading Uncle Tom’s Cabin: 150th Anniversary Of The Civil War

[April 12 is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  On this day, in Columbia, South Carolina a marathon reading will take place of the novel by "the little lady whose book started this great war."  Read the entire text of the story by clicking here.]

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Reading Marathon

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Boston edition

Posted on April 6, 2011 by Kevin Alexander Gray

The Uncle Tom’s Cabin reading marathon will be held on April 12 beginning at 8:00 am at the The Modjeska Monteith Simkins House at 2025 Marion Street in Columbia and will run until the entire novel has been read.
The event is being held on April 12th  in response to the many Civil War “commemorations” going on across the South and nation this year. April 12th is  the 150th anniversary of the start-up date of the Civil War.   The date is also significant in that the Confederate flag was first placed atop the SC Statehouse dome in 1962 during the centennial observances of the Civil War.
Since many of those commemorating and celebrating the “Lost Cause” want to write African enslavement out as a core reason for the war, many of us feel that it’s important to set the record straight in a historically connected way.

We want to tell the enslaved Africans and abolitionists’ side of the story.

Read more here . . .

April 9: Families & Teachers: Rally For Education & Jobs

Remembering The Triangle Fire — Joshua Freeman In The Nation

[Chicago remembers the Triangle Fire on April 7, 2011.  Click here to find out more]
Remembering the Triangle Fire
Joshua Freeman

Joshua Freeman teaches history at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

On March 25, 1911, a fire that broke out in a bin holding scraps of fabric at the Triangle Waist Company, just down the block from New York City’s Washington Square Park, quickly spread, fed by cotton garments, tissue paper and wooden fixtures. Though the building that housed the clothing manufacturer was modern and advertised as fireproof, the cramped layout of the factory, a locked exit door, a flimsy fire escape that soon crumpled and inadequate fire department equipment brought a staggering loss of life. Within a half-hour, 146 workers had died, mostly young Jewish and Italian women, nearly half still in their teens. Two were only 14. More than a third of the victims jumped or fell from upper-story windows trying to escape the flames.

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire is being commemorated by a remarkable array of events. As it does every year, Workers United, the union that represents garment workers, is sponsoring a ceremony at the site of the fire. (The building is now part of New York University.) Each year a fire department truck raises a ladder to the sixth floor, the highest its equipment could reach in 1911, painfully short of the eighth, ninth and tenth floors, where the fire occurred. Forums about the fire are being held in New York, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the City University of New York is sponsoring a conference on the fire and its legacy. HBO and PBS are airing documentaries. At least six Triangle-related plays and four musical theater pieces are being performed in cities across the country, including one composed by five-time Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados. Concerts, an art exhibit, a poetry contest and a forty-hour fast are being staged to mark the centennial.

The attention being given to Triangle stands out in a society that rarely remembers anything connected to workers’ lives, struggles or tragedies. Names like Homestead, Pullman and Flint, associated with decisive labor battles, mean nothing to most Americans. Yet even before the recent flurry of activity, the Triangle Fire occupied a modest niche in national culture, the subject of novels, historical studies, a film, plays, books of poetry, document collections, websites and even children’s books.

Why its prominence? After all, there were worse industrial disasters, including four mining accidents in the United States between 1907 and 1917, each of which killed more people than the New York fire. At the time, by one estimate, industrial accidents took at least 100 lives a day. And if Triangle was New York’s worst occupational disaster before 9/11, there were deadlier calamities, including the 1904 fire on the excursion ship General Slocum, which took well over 1,000 lives.

Triangle commands our notice in part because of the specifics of the disaster. There is something particularly horrifying about being trapped in a fire and plummeting through the air to escape it (so much so that ninety years later, on 9/11, newspapers and television generally refrained from showing images of people jumping from the World Trade Center). That so many of the victims were young and female added a layer of poignancy, as we commonly associate youth, especially young girls, with innocence, making their deaths seem even more undeserved than those of older victims of mining explosions and industrial accidents. And the Triangle Fire took place in the media capital of the country, receiving massive press coverage, including harrowing photographs difficult to forget.

But if the horror of death, of young life snuffed out, figures centrally in the Triangle story, particularly as relayed in poetry, fiction and young people’s literature, the story looms large for another reason: it fulfills a deeply held belief, or at least a yearning to believe, that good can come out of suffering, that death does not have to be in vain. “Out of the smoke and the flame,” not only “downward dashed the girls,” as an Episcopal minister wrote at the time, but also came a host of government reforms, union advances and a political approach that at least for a while eliminated many of the worst horrors associated with industrialization.

The Triangle Fire occurred at a moment of radical challenge to the national structures of power. For more than a decade the union movement had been growing in size and strength, stretching from conservative craft unions in the American Federation of Labor to the radical Industrial Workers of the World, with emerging garment worker unions combining elements of both. During the two years before the fire, a wave of protests had swept through the garment factories of New York and other cities, beginning with the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand,” a general strike of young female makers of women’s blouses, including those employed by the Triangle Waist Company. The struggle of the “girl strikers” proved epic. For thirteen weeks the clothing companies used thugs and police to try to break the walkout, while the strikers won support from organized labor, socialists and women’s groups, including prominent figures like multimillionaire suffragist and socialite Alva Belmont. The strike ended in a partial victory, union settlements with some 300 companies (though not Triangle) and a general improvement of pay and conditions. The next year, a cloakmakers strike brought the “Protocols of Peace,” an innovative agreement with the employers that solidified the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and established a Joint Board of Sanitary Control to address the dangerous, unhealthy conditions that permeated the industry.

The garment strikes erupted from a world bubbling with the excitement of new ideas and movements—socialism, anarchism, women’s rights and industrial unionism. Even Theodore Roosevelt recognized that as a result of the rapid industrialization of the country and the enormous disparity of wealth it created, “The old laws, and the old customs…. are no longer sufficient.” What was called “the labor question” dominated political discourse—the issue of how to end the strikes and labor violence that had shaken the country and, more fundamentally, how democracy and economic inequality could coexist. Progressives and unionists sought to develop mechanisms to eliminate the worst abuses of capitalist society and give working people some say about their lives, on and off the job. Propped up by an expanding economy and a widespread belief in the idea of progress, a great optimism about the possibilities for change managed to survive the daily horrors of unrestrained capitalism.

The Triangle Fire catalyzed the forces of change. In its immediate aftermath, some unionists concluded that workers could depend only on themselves. Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union League, told a meeting at the Metropolitan Opera House, called to address industrial safety, “I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting…. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves.” Triangle spurred intensified union organizing, a crescendo that would peak in 1919, when one out of every five workers in the country went on strike, a figure never again matched.

But Triangle forced others to address the plight of factory workers, too. Democratic leaders in Albany, under pressure from the massive outpouring of public sympathy for the Triangle victims (some 400,000 people came out for a funeral procession), organized labor, the Hearst press, the socialists (one of whose leaders, Meyer London, got elected to Congress from the Lower East Side in 1914) and upper-class reformers like Wall Street lawyer Henry Stimson (who was to serve as secretary of war on two separate occasions), decided to embrace the cause of factory reform as their own. Two years after police with ties to Tammany were beating up strikers in front of the Triangle factory, up-and-coming Democrats Al Smith and Robert Wagner took charge of a state Factory Investigating Commission, staffing it with young female union leaders like Clara Lemlich, whose impassioned speech had set off the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand,” and social reformers like Frances Perkins, executive secretary of the Consumers’ League. The commission’s detailed report led to dozens of New York State fire and factory laws (many copied in other states) establishing new safety requirements, limiting working hours for women and children, and restricting production in tenement homes.

The alliance linking New York Democrats with unions and progressive reformers persisted through the 1920s under the governorships of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, before blossoming during the New Deal. Perkins, who had witnessed workers jumping out of the Triangle windows, became the first female cabinet officer as labor secretary. Wagner, by then a senator, wrote the National Labor Relations Act, which facilitated the triumph of industrial unionism. Thirty-five years after that, a similar coalition of unionists, reform-minded professionals and liberal Democrats (joined, for reasons of political calculus, by Richard Nixon) engineered the Occupational Safety and Health Act. By the time Rose Freedman, the last survivor of the Triangle Fire, died in 2001 at 107, the number of deaths from workplace accidents had fallen to fewer than half those at the time OSHA was passed and just a fraction of the toll at the time of Triangle.

* * *

The unionization and reform that followed Triangle provides a feel-good element to an otherwise bleak story and accounts for some of its telling and retelling. Yet the triumphs—as remarkable as they were—proved limited in scope and durability. Government protections and benefits excluded many of the most exploited workers, like agricultural and domestic labor. And for garment workers, their moment of economic stability lasted only a generation or so; during the post–World War II decades, clothing manufacturers began leaving unionized production centers like New York City for rural and Southern locations, where organized labor was weaker and costs lower, and then for foreign shores. As the industry reorganized, sub-minimum and sub-subsistence wages, child labor and dangerous working conditions re-emerged, both in low-end shops in New York and Los Angeles that employed (as did the Triangle Waist Company) almost exclusively immigrant labor and in the vast archipelago of factories abroad—in Haiti, Central America, China and Bangladesh—where young women toil to feed apparel to American retailers.

The re-emergence of sweated labor in the garment industry previewed a broader degradation of work that has occurred since the 1970s, in the face of deregulation and economic restructuring. Many industries, like meatpacking, went from providing stable, well-paid, unionized jobs to operating dangerous facilities with low pay, poor benefits and high turnover. Manufacturing increasingly left the country (one reason for the drop in occupational fatalities). No one should have been surprised when in 1991 twenty-five workers died in a fire at a poultry plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, where doors were locked to prevent theft, just as at Triangle, or when two years later a fire at the Kadar toy factory near Bangkok killed more workers than at Triangle, the result of a similar combination of flammable materials strewn about, crowded conditions, inadequate exits and a lack of fire safety preparation.

Today, as a cult of deregulation, a rabid ethos of unrestricted capitalism and the ability of firms to play workers in one country against those in another have seemingly sent us careening back in time toward a pre–New Deal regime of labor relations, there is less domestic opposition to sweated labor than 100 years ago (though low-paid workers overseas have been increasingly militant, evident in the fusillade of strikes in China). Periodic waves of moral outrage sweep across college campuses in antisweatshop campaigns, but as an organized force, labor has weakened to the point that the percentage of privately employed workers who belong to a union is now lower than in 1911.

Given the enormous differences, politically, socially and culturally, between our time and the time of Triangle, it would be glib to draw specific lessons for today from the reformers who pulled some good from the ashes of the fire. But perhaps we can learn from their broad approach. The seemingly technical, incremental reforms that came in the aftermath of Triangle—requirements for sprinklers and fire drills and unlocked exit doors that open outward—were no more the result of modest thinking than the sweeping New Deal reforms like Social Security that came two decades later. Rather, they came out of a shared belief by socialists, unionists and even progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson that the society they lived in was fundamentally disordered, with institutions, rules and customs inappropriate for the needs of the people. The world needed reinventing. But if the spirit of revolution infused the air, so did the practical draw of social engineering and respect, grounded in daily experience, for the importance of even small changes in the conditions of work.

Today, the labor movement and progressives fight one dispiriting battle after another to defend wages, benefits, social programs and government protections from further dismemberment. Even the thrilling mobilization of labor and its allies in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana has remained, so far, defensive—necessary, but not enough even to win incremental advances. We live in a society that simply does not function for an ever-growing part of the population. It is too late to rally around restoring the status quo ante, an impossible and not particularly attractive ideal. Rather, like the social forces fused together by the flames at Triangle, we need to imagine a new way of being, a new set of customs and laws designed for our world of commoditization, financialization and globalization, which has brought so much wealth and so much misery—some new combination of regulation and self-organization. Only by recapturing the spirit of the reformers of a century ago, that the world belongs to us, to make right as we see fit, can we achieve even modest improvements in our daily reality.

Commemorating April 4, 1968: ML King, Garbage Workers and Trade Unions — by Chris Mahin

[Written a few years ago, this essay is useful to review when the question of collective bargaining for public workers is again on the table, and when FBI attempts to isolate union activists is also on the table.  April 4 is the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.]
April 1968:
Dr. King is Killed Defending Labor’s Rights

by Chris Mahin

April 4 is one of the saddest days of the year. On that day in 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. While many events are held each year to honor Dr. King’s memory, too often people forget – or have never learned — why he was in Memphis that spring. Dr. King went to Memphis to help striking sanitation workers – and paid for his stand with his life. That makes April 4 an important anniversary not only in African American history (and in U.S. history in general), but in the history of the labor movement as well.

On February 12, 1968, hundreds of Memphis sanitation workers went on strike. At the time, they were making less than $1 an hour and were eligible for welfare. They decided that they had had enough of poor wages, terrible working conditions, and a viciously anti-union mayor.

The workers were members of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The strike was the culmination of years of mistreatment. The workers worked 12 hours a day carrying garbage with busted, leaking pails. Some of the pails were infested with flies and maggots, and the workers had no place to wash up in the yard when they had to leave the trucks. Some of the workers had no running water when they returned home after work. The workers had no real benefits of any kind.

This dire situation came to a crisis point on Feb. 1, 1968, when the accidental activation of a packer blade in the back of a garbage truck fatally crushed workers Echol Cole and Robert

The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated, now a museum.

Walker.

Almost 1,400 sanitation workers joined the strike. They shut the city down.

The workers and their supporters marched daily to pressure the mayor and the city council to recognize the sanitation unit under AFSCME Local 1733. The men wore signs which read “I AM a Man,” a slogan that was eventually recognized around the world.

Tension grew in the city as Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb called the strike illegal and threatened to hire new workers unless the strikers returned to work. On February 14, the mayor issued a back-to-work ultimatum for 7 a.m. on Feb. 15. The police escorted the few garbage trucks in operation. Negotiations broke off. The newspapers began to report that more than 10,000 tons of garbage was piling up.

It was in that tense environment that AFSCME organizers appealed to Dr. King to come to Memphis to speak to the workers. Initially, King was reluctant. He was immersed in work preparing for the Poor People’s Campaign. This was a huge undertaking, an effort to bring poor people of all ethnicities to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1968 to protest poverty. But when AFSCME organizer Jesse Epps pointed out that the fight of the sanitation workers in Memphis was part of the same struggle as the Poor People’s Campaign, King agreed.

Once in Memphis, King immediately grasped the importance of what was unfolding there. On his first visit to the city, March 18, he spoke to a crowd of 17,000 people, and called for a citywide march.

On Thursday, March 28, King led a march from the Clayborn Temple, the strike’s headquarters. The march was interrupted by window breaking at the back of the demonstration. The police moved into the crowd, using nightsticks, Mace, tear gas – and guns. A 16-year-old, Larry Payne, was shot dead. The police arrested 280 people, and reported about 60 injuries. The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in.

On Friday, March 29, some 300 sanitation workers and ministers marched peacefully and silently from Clayborn Temple to City Hall – escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three huge military trucks, and dozens of National Guardsmen with their bayonets fixed.

In the last days of March, King cancelled a planned trip to Africa and made preparations to lead a peaceful march in Memphis. Organizers working on preparations for the Poor People’s Campaign in other cities were directed to leave those cities and come to Memphis, for it was clear that the Poor People’s Campaign could not be won without winning the fight in Memphis.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King returned to Memphis. That evening, he gave an extraordinary speech to hundreds of people at Mason Temple. The speech has gone down in history as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Anyone who reads it today will notice that it  is an eloquent statement of support for the sanitation workers. (That night, King called them “thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering.”) But it is also a farewell speech, the oration of a man who knew he might not have long to live, and who was searching his soul to make sense of his life, and his place in history.

In the speech, King emphatically rejected the calls not to march again because of an injunction:

“[S]omewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right!”

At the end of his remarks he referred indirectly to the underhanded attempts by racists, the FBI, and other forces to sabotage his leadership and destroy the movement, declaring:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like everybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

Less than 24 hours after uttering those words, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Urban rebellions broke out in more than 60 cities. In response to pressure from all over the country, the federal government sent Labor Department officials to Memphis to mediate a settlement to the strike.

On Tuesday, April 16, AFSCME leaders announced that an agreement had been reached.  The agreement included union recognition, better pay, and benefits. The strikers voted to accept the agreement.

It was a bittersweet end to a long battle. The strike ended in victory, but at a terrible cost, the death of one of the foremost symbols of the fight for justice in that (or any) era. AFSCME’s victory in Memphis inspired other workers in Memphis to join unions, and other employees throughout the South to join AFSCME. The Poor People’s Campaign which Dr. King had been working on when he went to Memphis did take place later in the tumultuous year 1968. As King had hoped, it brought together poor people of all ethnicities to demonstrate in Washington, D.C. – African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and whites.

Given Dr. King’s role in the Memphis sanitation strike and the tremendous community support that the strikers received, perhaps the month of April ought to be a time to remember that not all labor leaders have an official position with a union — and that labor  comes in all colors, and includes both employed and unemployed people. If we hold on to those lessons, we will honor what was won with such great sacrifice in Memphis in April 1968.

Annie Shapiro and the Chicago Garment Workers Uprising in 1910

[Marlene Targ Brill is a Chicago based writer with a distinguished list of children's books to her credit.  Her most recent publication celebrates Annie Shapiro, who began that uprising 100 years ago, just 6 months before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  The following interview, conducted by Joan Brunwasser in Op-Ed News, explores Chicago as the center of the men's clothing industry and how that related to organizing the entire industry.   She came to write the book from a suggestion by her sister-in-law. as she reports in the interview,

As an author, I've often had people come to me with ideas they think I should write about.  I usually tell them to write the story themselves.  But when my sister-in-law told me about her aunt and the strike she led when a 17-year-old Russian immigrant to Chicago, I thought I would include her story in lists of topics for editors who I knew.  For years, no one was interested.  In fact, I was so sure no one would become interested, I threw away the articles my sister-in-law had sent to me about her aunt, Hannah (Annie) Shapiro.

Then, I got the magic email that authors love to read.

Conducted after the recent events in Wisconsin brought workers' rights to the fore once again, the interview and the book itself have great relevance today.  The entire interview may be read by clicking this link.]

Marlene Targ Brill on “Anne Shapiro and the Clothing Workers’ Strike”

opednews.com


My guest today is Chicago-based author, Marlene Targ Brill. Welcome to OpEdNews, Marlene. You have a new book out. Can you tell our readers about it?


photo credit: Richard B. Brill

Thank you for permitting me to talk about my latest book, Annie Shapiro and the Clothing Workers’ Strike.  This true picture book story discusses the role Hannah (Annie) Shapiro and other Chicago immigrants played in the 20th-century labor movement.  The book tells how 17-year-old Annie rebelled against 10-hour workdays, bullying bosses and cuts in already-low wages.  She walked out of a Hart, Schaffner & Marx Chicago sweatshop in 1910 and urged others to join her.  Because of her brave stand, 40,000 other workers walked out, closing down the men’s textile industry in Chicago and Milwaukee.  The strike triggered formation of a giant national union now called Workers United and resulted in employees nationwide receiving better treatment and wages.

There was so much going against Annie. She was a young person, an immigrant, who spoke broken English and was embarrassed about it. She was not well-educated; she was 12 when she had dropped out of school to go to work because her mother got sick. And her large family depended on her earnings to get by. Yet she risked everything by not accepting terrible work conditions and being willing to do something about it. Success didn’t come easy. Tell our readers what happened when she and the other girls who were her fellow workers approached the United Garment Workers Union for support.

The UGWU was male-only, and after all, this was 1910. At first, the men didn’t take the women seriously.  So Annie and the twelve original women who followed her out of Shop 5, where they worked, asked the Women’s League for assistance.  The League was a group of wealthy women who helped families who came to Hull House, Chicago’s settlement house founded by Jane Addams, for assistance.  League women gladly picketed with the strikers and raised funds to help families in distress from the strike.  After a couple thousand workers joined the protest, the UGWU decided the girls not only raised a serious issue but one supported by workers throughout the men’s textile industry in Chicago. [The interview continues here.]

[Brill refers in her interview to Workers United, the union that is descended from the original garment workers unions of the early part of the 20th century.  Workers United annually conducts a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York, as they have this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that tragedy.  This past September, Marlene Targ Brill spoke at the Workers United convention.  On Thursday, April 7, Noel Beasley will represent Workers United at the Chicago commemoration of the Triangle Fire.  For more information about that event click here.

To learn more about Annie or Marlene Targ Brill's other titles, go to www.marlenetargbrill.com or contact Lerner Publishing at www.lernerbooks.com.]

Rosie’s Girls — by Julia Stein

[Reposted from Counterpunch's Poetry Basement, edited by Marc Beaudin.  Julia Stein's poetry along with other work from the poetry anthology she edited, Walking Through A River Of Fire, will be read at a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,  Thursday, April 7, 2011.  The program begins at 3 pm, ends at 5 pm at Gage Gallery, 18 So. Michigan Ave; and will be followed by a screening of the recent American Experience documentary film on Triangle.  At 6 pm the Working Women's History Project continues the commemoration with a special performance of a play written for this occasion, performed at their annual fundraising gala at Roosevelt University, 214 So. Michigan Ave. - Lew Rosenbaum ]

One of Rosie’s Girls
by JULIA STEIN


We union girls every Saturday walked to the Asch building,
yelled up to the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors, “So long
until victory is yours” to our sisters at Triangle Factory,
our sisters who lost their strike, the girls defeated
by scabs, their dreams of union smashed,
our sisters entrapped up the elevator eight, nine floors,
the girls who are locked in, one fire escape, no union
the floors covered with scraps of clothing,
the girls who screamed and burned in the fire.

After the terrible fire I walked numbly in the April rain

into the funeral march crowd that overflowed Washington Square.
My sorrow was enough to flood all of Fifth Avenue,
My rage was enough to flood all of Broadway.
They led the empty hearse first up through the huge arch,
then we walked silently eight abreast the rain hitting us hard
up Fifth Avenue the fine ladies in their frilly shirtwaists and the
fine gentlemen in their fancy suits on the sidewalk stared at us,
we were so drenched walking past the mansions of the rich.

We hissed and screamed from the floor, the galleries
packed with my brothers and sisters of the dead at
the Metropolitan Opera House memorial meeting;
we only quieted when Rosie Schneiderman, tiny steel wisp
with her flaming red hair, whispered,
‘This is not the first time girls have burned alive
in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death
of one of our sister workers. Every year thousands of us
are maimed.” Rose’s voice was our voice was my voice.

We followed Rose across the Lower East side hoisting her up
to speak. Rosie with her flaming red hair at the street meeting told us
the Governor ignited a commission to investigate.
All those meetings for five years she gave us hope telling us
the commissioners crawled through the tiny hole in the wall
to the steep iron ladder covered with ice, the factory’s only
fire escape, visited canneries where five-year olds snipped beans,
seven year olds shelled peas, saw machinery that
scalped women, cut men’s arms off. We followed her.

I was one of Rosie’s girls who helped leaflet for her meetings
every noon and evening telling our sisters and brothers
the legislator passed, the governor signed laws making it
safe to work. We walked the streets leafleting our people
in the factories and stores to speak up speak up until the sprinklers
were installed, fire escapes built up the sides of factory buildings,
the doors to the factories unlocked. My sorrow lessened,
still March 25 every year I take a bunch of daisies to
Evergreen Cemetery, lay it on the grave of a Triangle girl.

Julia Stein is the editor of the anthology Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Poetry (C.C. Marimbo).  She also has four previous books of poetry: Under the Ladder to Heaven, Desert Soldiers, Shulamith, and Walker Woman.

May Day 2011: Eagle Columns

[I often wonder how many of the parents whose children play at the foot of Eagle Columns recognize who Altgeld was and why Lindsay called him an eagle.  And how the Eagle Columns relates to the workers' holiday that originated in Chicago.  The text and graphics below were taken from a Eagle Columns-3 Chicago Park District site Vachel Lindsay's poem is available at the Poetry Foundation site among others, along with a biography of the poet.  Richard Hunt's remarkable work can be found at his web site. -- Lew Rosenbaum]

Eagle Columns
LOCATION: South of W. Wrightwood Avenue and west 
of N. Sheffield Avenue
INSTALLED: 1989
SCULPTOR: Richard Hunt
Prominently located at the corner of Wrightwood and Sheffield Avenues,
this contemporary sculpture features abstracted eagles that appear to
be rising from bronze pylons. Sculpted by Richard Hunt, the artwork
memorializes politician John Peter Altgeld and poet Vachel Lindsay, two
individuals who played a prominent role in Illinois history.
During the late nineteenth century, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld
(1847–1902) made a decision of conscience that essentially destroyed his
career. Soon after Altgeld’s inauguration, his law partner, Clarence Darrow
asked him to review the cases of the anarchists who had been blamed for
the Haymarket Riot of 1886. Altgeld became convinced that the men had
been unfairly convicted of murder, and despite public outcry, he pardoned
the three living “bombers” in 1893. Altgeld received harsh criticism even
after his death. This sentiment finally changed in 1913, when Vachel
Lindsay published “The Eagle that is Forgotten,”a poem that prompted
many citizens to recognize the previous governor as a forgotten hero. As a
result, a figurative sculpture of Altgeld was erected in Lincoln Park in 1915.
In the late 1980s, after many decades in which few sculptures were
placed in any of Chicago’s parks, a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts and donations from local residents funded this sculpture by
internationally-recognized artist Richard Hunt. Born and educated in
Chicago, Richard Hunt (b. 1935) lives and works out of a large converted
street car barn near the park and monument. Hunt believes that sculpture
has an important role within the community. He has asserted: “Public
sculpture responds to the dynamics of a community, or of those who
have a use for sculpture. It is this aspect of use, of utility, that gives public
sculpture its vital and lively place in the public mind.”
In 2008, the Wrightwood Neighbors Association began working with the
Chicago Park District to conserve the monument which had deteriorated
and been damaged by skate boarders. Richard Hunt consulted on the
conservation project and the Eagle Columns were rededicated in June of
2010.

The Eagle That Is Forgotten

by Vachel Lindsay

(John P. Altgeld, Governor of Illinois and my next-door neighbor, 1893-1897. Born December 30, 1847; died March 12, 1902.)

Sleep softly . . . eagle forgotten . . . under the stone.
Time has its way with you there, and the clay has its own.
“We have buried him now,” thought your foes, and in secret rejoiced.
They made a brave show of their mourning, their hatred unvoiced.
They had snarled at you, barked at you, foamed at you day after day,
Now you were ended. They praised you . . . and laid you away.
The others that mourned you in silence and terror and truth,
The widow bereft of her crust, and the boy without youth,
The mocked and the scorned and the wounded, the lame and the poor,
That should have remembered forever . . . remember no more.
Where are those lovers of yours, on what name do they call,
The lost, that in armies wept over your funeral pall?
They call on the names of a hundred high-valiant ones,
A hundred white eagles have risen the sons of your sons,
The zeal in their wings is a zeal that your dreaming began
The valor that wore out your soul in the service of man.
Sleep softly . . . eagle forgotten . . . under the stone,
Time has its way with you there and the clay has its own.
Sleep on, O brave-hearted, O wise man that kindled the flame—
To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name,
To live in mankind, far, far more . . . than to live in a name.
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