May Day Marches and Much More: Commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the Haymarket Martyrs

April 29th 5:30 pm Gage Gallery Reception for International Trade unionists and public and release of new publication of The Day Will Come by Mark Rogovin and viewing of his fathers photos, Milton Rogovin.  (ILHS event)

April 30th, 2pm. Plaque dedication at Haymarket Square at Randolph and DesPlaines by Illinois Labor History Society and re enactment of the Haymarket Tragedy at the site followed by gathering of all who wish to come to Haymarket Brewery at Halsted and Randolph.  (ILHS event)

Sunday, May 1, 9 AM to 12 Noon at Haymarket Square, Randolph & DesPlaines;  Poetry for  Labor:  A free, public participatory reading to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Square Affair, bring your own poetry or prose, or poetry or prose that you love, that brings to life in celebration, in reflection, in commemoration work and those who do it!

Sunday, May 1, noon rally sponsored by Jobs With Justice to protest Walmart international worker exploitation. March from Walmart in Forest Park (DesPlaines and Roosevelt Road in Forest Park) to Haymarket Monument in Forest Home Cemetery (see next entry).

May 1, 1 pm, World wide gathering to celebrate 125th anniversary of the Haymarket and the restoration of the Monument in Forest Park featuring AFL-CIO secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler  (ILHS event)

May 1, Marcha -May Day March and Rally — for Workers and Immigrants Rights:

2:00PM Reunion at Union Park, Corners of Lake St and Ashland Ave.
3:00PM March Begins heading to Pilsen Neighborhood
4:00PM March Ends and Rally Starts at Plaza Tenochtitlan in Pilsen (18th St and Blue Island Ave)


2:00PM Reunion en el Parque Union, Esquinas de las calles Lake y Ashland
3:00PM La Marcha Comienza rumbo a los barrios de Pilsen y La Villita
4:00PM La Marcha termina con in Mitin en la Plaza Tenochtitlan en Pilsen. (Esquinas de la calle 18 y la Blue Island)

May 1,  Sunday, 6-10 pm The Amoreys return with their open mic Jam May 1st, 2011  Jam/Open Mic at Lunar – 6 PM to 10 PM at the Lunar Brewery 54 E. St.Charles Road Villa Park, IL  (630) 530-2077

May 1, 7PM  Old Town School of Folk Music concert titled Music and Rebellion with Bucky Halker, his band, and some international groups. Tickets are 15 dollars. (ILHS event)

May 3, 6-8 PM Necessary: An Exhibit Exploring the Life & Legacy of Malcolm X, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Residents’ Dining Hall 800 S. Halsted Street Chicago, IL ( presented by Neighborhood Writing Alliance and the Black History 101 Mobile Museum)

May 5th, Thursday,6:00 – 7:30 pm Conversation about the difficult and surprisingly dangerous life of laundry workers in Chicago at Workers United 333 S. Ashland Ave.  Have a conversation with Daisy Sewell who has both worked in a commercial laundry and worked to unionize laundry workers. Light refreshments, soda and wine will be served.

From The Haymarket Scrapbook: Poetry and Prose

[The following material is reprinted from the Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Franklin Rosemont and Dave Roediger and published in 1986 for the centenary of Haymarket by Charles Kerr Press.  It remains the single best source of materials on Haymarket, the incident, as well as the individuals involved and the consequences of the affair. This is the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket “affair.”  Please click this link to find all events scheduled for this May Day weekend, and on the Labor & Arts Festival Calendar for the month of May.]

In Defense of the Chicago Anarchists

Eleanor Marx

If I were speaking anywhere else or at any other time than the present, I should go straight to my subject, which is to make clear to you what we mean by socialism, but in this town, and at this time, I should feel myself a coward, I should feel I was neglecting a manifest duty, if I did not refer to a matter which I am sure is present in the minds and hearts of all here tonight; which is present in the minds and hearts of all honest men and women. I mean, of course, to the anarchist trial-it is called a trial-and the condemnation to death of seven men.

Now I do not hesitate to say most emphatically and explicitly that if that sentence is carried out, it will be one of the most infamous legal murders that has ever been perpetrated. The execution of these men would be neither more nor less than murder. I am no anarchist, but I feel all the more that if am bound to say this. Nor do I make such a statement on socialistic or anarchistic authority alone. Why, only this morning, in the Chicago Tribune, you will find the statement that “they hang anarchists in Chicago.” That is, they are going to hang these men not as murderers, but as anarchists. That is the very confession we wanted. Not we, but our opponents, say this-that seven men are to be done to death not for what they have done, but for what they have said and believe.

That cowardly and infamous sentence will not be carried out. The votes cast by the working class will put a stop to that, at least so I believe. Should these men be murdered, we may say of the executioners what my father said of those who massacred the people of Paris: “They are already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them.”

Eleanor MARX

Speech delivered in Aurora, Illinois,
November 1886, a.s printed in the
Chicago Knights of Labor
(December, 1886)

Marx Family

The youngest daughter of Karl Marx, and the only one to become a public figure in her own right, Eleanor “Tussy”Marx (1855- 1898) was born in England where she spent nearly all her life. A tireless activist in the British workers’ movement, she organized the first women’s branch of the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers, served on its Executive Committee for several years, and played an important role in many strikes as well as in eight-hour-day agitation. With William Morris and H. M. Hyndman she was one of the most renowned socialists in late-nineteenth-century England, and a popular speaker at radical workers’ meetings.

From September to December 1886 she and her common-law husband Edward Aveling were in the U.S. on an extensive speaking tour. From New York and Rhode Island to Minnesota and Kansas, they addressed large workingclass audiences in dozens of cities. Defense of the Haymarket Eight was a regular feature of their speeches.



Where is thy home, 0 Freedom? Have they set
Thine image up upon a rock to greet
All comers shaking from their wandering feet

International Solidarity of Labour by Walter Crane

The dust of the old world bondage, to forget
The tyrannies of fraud and force, nor fret,
Where men are equal, slavish chain unmeet;
Nor bitter bread of discontent to eat, .
Here, where all races of the earth are met?
America! beneath thy banded flag
Of old it was thy boast that men were free,
To think, to speak, to meet, to come, to go.
What up to Labour’s sons who would not see
Fair Freedom but a mask-a hollow show?

Walter CRANE

from Commonweal, October 15, 1887.

Walter Crane

[English painter, designer, and illustrator, Walter Crane was best known for his illustrations of children’s books in a deliberately archaic style. Born in Liverpool, he studied miniature painting and wood engraving in his youth and was apprenticed to W.J.Linton. His paintings and book illustrations were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and by Japanese prints.

With the designer William Morris he was a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, which sought to reform the decorative arts. Crane founded the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society in 1888, becoming their first President. The object of the body was to assist in the revival of the art and handicrafts currently occurring, and to draw attention to the craftsmen involved. Crane designed wallpapers, most notably “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Rush and Iris.” These beautiful papers were produced by Jeffrey & Co.

Walter Crane also illustrated books for William Morrisand other publishers including The Frog Prince (1874), Household Stories from Grimm (1882), and his masterpiece, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1894-1896). He illustrated 50 complete books between 1865 and 1886 and continued with at least two books a year until the end of the century.  Found at this site.]



Named for Voltaire by her freethinker father, Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) endured an impoverished midwestern childhood before her father converted to Catholicism and sent her to a Canadian convent, where she spent her teenage years. This experience, which she later invariably referred to as nightmarish, left her a militant atheist, and for many years she was one of the American freethought movement’s star lecturers. She was briefly a socialist after encountering Clarence Darrow in 1887, but the example of the Haymarket martyrs soon inspired her to take up their cause. She is buried near their graves in Waldheim.


Haymarket Martyrs Monument, Waldheim Cemetery

(The figure on the monument over the grave of the Chicago martyrs in Waldheim Cemetery is a warrior woman, dropping with her left hand a crown upon the forehead of a fallen man just past his agony, and with her right drawing a dagger from her bosom.)

Light upon Waldheim! And the earth is gray;
A bitter wind is driving from the north;
The stone is cold, and strange cold whispers say:
What do ye here with Death? Go forth! Go forth!”

Is this thy word, 0 Mother, with stern eyes,
Crowning thy dead with stone-caressing touch?
May we not weep o’er him that martyred lies,
Slain in our name, for that he loved us much?

May we not linger till the day is broad?
Nay, none are stirring in this stinging dawn —
None but poor wretches that make no moan to God:
What use are these, 0 thou with dagger drawn?

“Go forth, go forth! Stand not to weep for these,
Till, weakened with your weeping, like the snow
Ye melt, dissolving in a coward peace!”
Light upon Waldheim! Brother, let us go!

London, October, 1897

Voltairine de CLEYRE



They would not sleep in shame, like all the rest,
Nor could they either slaves or swindlers be.
They spoke the free and open truth. Till death
They fought for human rights and liberty.
They carried in their breasts the scarlet flame
Of Truth, sweet radiance that freedom casts.
They bid us speak in Truth’s unsullied name,
And summoned us to man’s unfinished tasks.
They never gave consent to those decrees
Which only blind the people, and enslave.
They ripped apart the laws of tyranny,
To laws of nature recognition gave.
They broke a window through in mankind’s
Prison-house of black obscurity,
And freely let the sunlight permeate
The pallid world of human slavery.
Usurpers paled and tyrants shook in fright;
The slave was waking, tearing at his chain,
Had understood at last his human right,
“Liberty or death!” his fierce refrain,
But when the cruel, man-devouring class
Had barely heard the Truth thus spoken free,
It seized its bloodstained knife in deadly grasp
And plunged into this monstrous butchery.
Oh brothers! They have killed our champions who
Were leading us through strife to victory.
Oh baseness vile! how brilliantly have you
Prevailed, in this, the nineteenth century!
How powerless the people stood, and mute–
So like a child! Not one bold hand to thwart
The rope, to stop the tyrant’s hangman-brute!
Oh masses! Where your reason? Where your heart?
In Waldheim now, man’s freedom-thinkers rest.
And still are heard, from that eternal site,
The savage hangman’s roaring epithets,
Which rouse the world of slaves to freedom’s fight.

They ask no hymns of praise, no monument
Of marble, bloodied by the slave’s own hand,
Their sole request is man’s enlightenment,
The fight for human rights their one demand.
Unite, oh people! Learn your strength! Awake!
And heed the wish that echoes from their grave.
Throw off your yoke! And crush the vicious snake
Which poisoned you and turned you into slaves.


Cincinnati, Ohio, 23 September 1889
(Translated by Max Rosenfeld

[David Edelshtat (or Edelstadt) was born in Kaluga, Russia in 1866. He emigrated to America in 1882, already a radical. Like others, he was further radicalised by the Haymarket affair of 1886-7: he joined the Pionire der Frayhayt (Pioneers of Liberty) and later edited the Fraye Arbayter Shtime (Free Voice of Labor). First writing in Russian, he switched to Portrait of Kate SharpleyYiddish to reach the mass of working immigrant Jews. In three and a half years he became a prolific and powerful anarchist poet, an agitator-in-verse. In 1892 he died of TB caught in a sweatshop, aged twenty-six. Found at the Bulletin for the Kate Sharpley Library]

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Death Sentence Found Unconstitutional: Democracy Now

Court Rules Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Death Sentence is Unconstitutional, Grants New Sentencing Hearing


The case of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal took a surprising turn Tuesday when the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared his death sentence unconstitutional. It is the second time the court has agreed with a lower court judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. Now Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and journalist, could get a new sentencing hearing in court. We speak with his co-counsel, Judith Ritter, and Linn Washington, an award-winning journalist who has followed Abu-Jamal’s case for almost three decades.

AMY GOODMAN: The case of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal took a surprising turn Tuesday when an appeals court unanimously declared his death sentence unconstitutional. It’s the second time the court has done so.

Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther and journalist. For decades, he has argued racism by the trial judge and prosecutors led to his 1982 conviction of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Two years ago, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court then ordered the court to reexamine the decision. Now that the ruling has been upheld, Abu-Jamal could get a new sentencing hearing in court before a new jury.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he’ll appeal the federal court’s decision to grant a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SETH WILLIAMS: What I’m going to do is I’m going to review fully the opinion of the Court of Appeals, but it is my belief at this point that I will ask the Supreme Court to clarify and to make a decision on what we should do at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Well, to discuss these latest developments in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, we go to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by his attorney, Judy Ritter. She has worked on his case as his co-counsel since 2002 and wrote the legal arguments in this appeal.

We’re also joined by Linn Washington, the award-winning journalist and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. He has followed Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case for almost three decades.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! [Click here to read the rest of this story, or to hear it on Democracy Now!]

Haymarket Incidents: Albert Parsons: Freedom is Bread, Bread Freedom!

 [The state tried, convicted, and put to death four of the eight Haymarket Martyrs.  The four were hanged:  when the trapdoor was ordered opened, observers watched the bodies drop and dangle, twitching and jerking for seven cruel minutes until they died.  While Albert Parsons awaited the date of execution, he was asked by the Knights of Labor to write something of an autobiography, an excerpt of which follows.  (click here to read the entire piece): In his statement he brings his conviction up to date to indict not only those pass sentence on him, but the entire system for which they judge: “For free speech and the right of assembly five labor orators & organizers are condemned to die. For free press and free thought three labor Editors are sent to the scaffold. “These eight men,” said the attorneys of the monopolists “are picked out by the grand jury because they are the leaders of thousands who are equally guilty with them and we punish them to make examples of them for the others.” This much for opinions sake, for free thought, free speech, free press & public assembly.”  Parsons was one of the labor editors he mentions and a member of the International Typographical Union Local #16 from Chicago.]

. . .In August 1873 I accompanied an Editorial Excursion, as the representative of the Texas Agriculturist at Austin, Texas. I in company with a large delegation of Texas

Image of the first manuscript page of Parsons' Autobiography

editors made an extended tour, through Texas, Indian Nation, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania as guests of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway. It was on this trip in Sept, 1873, that I decided to settle in Chicago. I had married in Austin Texas in the fall of 1872 and my wife joining me at Philadelphia we came to Chicago together where we have lived till the present time. I at once became a member of Typographical Union No. 16 and “Subbed” for a time on the Inter-Ocean, when I went to work under “permit” on the Times. Here I worked over four years holding a situation at “the case”. In 1874 I became interested in the “Labor question,” growing out of an effort made by Chicago workingpeople at that time to compel the “Relief & Aid Society” to render to the suffering poor of the city an account of the vast sums of money (several millions of dollars) held by that society and contributed by the whole world to relieve the distress occasioned by the great Chicago fire of 1871. It was claimed by the working people that the money was being used for purposes foreign to the intention of its donors,  . . . click here to read more.


Toil and pray! Thy world cries cold;

Speed thy prayer, for time is gold;

At thy door Need’s subtle tread;

Pray in haste! for time is bread.

And thou plow’st and thou hew’st,

And thou rivet’st and sewest,

And thou harvestest in vain;

Speak! 0, man; what is thy gain?

Fly’st the shuttle day and night,

Heav’st the ones of earth to light,

Fill’st with treasures plenty’s horn–

Brim’st it oe’r with wine and corn.

But who hath thy meal prepared,

Festive garments with thee shared;

And where is thy cheerful hearth,

Thy good shield in battle dearth?

Thy creations round thee see-

All thy work, but nought for thee!

Yea, of all the chains alone

Thy hand forged, these are thine own.

Chains that round the body cling,

Chains that lame the spirit’s wing,

Chains that infants’ feet, indeed,

Clog! O, workmen! Lo! Thy meed.

What ye rear and bring to light,

Profits by the idle wight,

What ye weave of diverse hue,

‘Tis a curse-your only due.

What ye build, no room insures,

Not a sheltering roof to yours,

And by haughty ones are trod-

Ye, who toil their feet hath shod.

Human bees! Has nature’s thrift

Given thee naught but honey’s gift?

See! the drones are on the wing,

Have you lost the will to sting?

Man of labor, up, arise!

Know the might that in thee lies,

Wheel and shaft are set at rest

At thy powerful arm’s behest.

Thine oppressor’s hand recoils,

When thou, weary of thy toils,

Shun’st thy plough; thy task begun

When thou speak’st: Enough is done!

Break this two-fold yoke in twain;

Break thy want’s enslaving chain;

Break thy slavery’s want and dread;

Bread is freedom, freedom bread.


poem reprinted from The Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont (Charles Kerr, 1986)

Haymarket Incidents: John Brown, Jr. Writes to August Spies

[There is a direct route from John Brown and the fight to abolish slavery to the martyrs of Haymarket and the attempt to restrict wage slavery.  Old Brown himself was executed, as

John Brown, Jr.

were his spiritual descendants 30 years later, so Brown’s words, written shortly before his death, were a fitting communication, this time from his son to August Spies, awaiting the hangman’s noose in Chicago.  John Brown, Jr. was the eldest son of John Brown.  He fought with his father in Kansas and, 3 years after his father was executed, moved to Put-in Bay, Ohio, where he lived until his death in 1895.  He farmed and was listed on the census as a grape grower. The letter is reprinted from The Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont (Charles Kerr, 1986)]

From John Brown, Jr. to August Spies, Haymarket martyr

Put-in-Bay Island Lake Erie,

Ottawa Co. Ohio, 7th Nov. 1887


I send you by to day’s Boat, a basket of  Catawba grapes, pre-paid through, as per Express receipts enclosed. These grapes, 1 beg you to accept as a slight token of my sympathy for you, and for the cause which you represent.

   Four days before his execution, my Father  wrote to a friend, the following.

August Spies

“Charlestown, Va., Jail,

Nov. 28th 1859

It is a great comfort to feel assured that I am permitted to die for a cause,-not merely to pay the debt of nature, as all must.

John Brown”

That a like assurance may be a comfort to you, is the earnest desire of

Ever yours, for the cause of the faithful, honest laborer.-

John Brown, Jr.

Faithfully yours,

John Brown, Jr.

Poetry For Labor on May Day; Link to Complete Schedule

Click here for complete Festival Schedule:

Telling the Truth about/in the Native Land

Telling the Truth about/in the Native Land

Reading through the labor press of 1943 and 1944 I found this item about censorship in Chicago.  The film was Native Land, originally produced between 1938 and 1942 (when it was

Martin Dies, chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities

released) as a response to the right wing “March of Time.”  The film features Paul Robeson as a narrator and mixes documentary footage as well as dramatic reenactments of, for example, KKK attacks and union defense against labor spies and thugs.  (Click here to find out more about the film and the plot and here.) The context was the predations of the precursor to the “Un-American Activities” investigations, the committee led by Texas member of the House of Representatives, Martin Dies.  The committee name was changed to its more well known appellation from the “Dies Committee” in 1946.    In 1938, the year that work on Native Land was begun (under the working title, later discarded, of Labor Spy), the Dies Committee subpoenaed Hallie Flanagan, head of the Federal Theater Project, to investigate its infiltration by communists.  Member of the committee Joe Starnes achieved notoriety by asking Flanagan if Christopher Marlowe was a member of the American Communist Party, and whether the playwright “Mr. Euripides” preached class warfare.  The environment in which Native Land was censored in Chicago also saw the labor press calling for the disbanding of the Dies Committee for its anti union activity.

from Federation News, Chicago Federation of Labor

Who Owns the World? Noam Chomsky for TomDispatch

Is the World Too Big to Fail?
The Contours of Global Order

By Noam Chomsky

The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces — coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.

Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” — “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.

Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.  To read more, please click here.

More on Protest Songs from The Nation

Ten Protest Songs That Matter

April 21, 2011

Dorian Lynskey’s comprehensive new book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, details the history of the protest song in America and around the world.

Defining a protest song as one that “addresses a political issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog,” Lynskey starts his story with Billie Holiday’s harrowing 1939 anti-lynching ballad, “Strange Fruit,” and ably takes us through the historic tunes that helped sustain and promote the civil rights, labor and anti-Vietnam war movements as well as non-American music from The Clash in Britain, Victor Jara in Chile and Fela Kuti in Nigeria.

It’s a bracing and informative survey, even if you’re familiar with the topic, and it sent me thinking and talking to people about all-time favorite protest songs. A quick poll of Nation staffers and friends of the magazine produced an eclectic play list:

Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky offered “Peat Bog Soldiers,” one of Europe’s best-known protest songs that became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War and a symbol of fascist resistance during World War II. Executive Editor Richard Kim cited Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds.” Managing Editor Roane Carey undoubtedly spoke for many when he insisted on Bob Dylan’s classic ” Masters of War.” Publicity Director Gennady Kolker contributed John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” Blogger, author and former Crawdaddy editor Greg Mitchell‘s tentative short-list includes Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come,” Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem,” Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello’s live version of “Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”, Louis Armstrong’s “Black and Blue,” Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy,” Billy Bragg’s version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy and Neil Young’s “Shock and Awe.”  [click here to read the rest of the story and link to performances of 10 protest songs]

*Milton Rogovin: A Life In Photography* at Roosevelt’s Gage Gallery

[The environment for this event is an extraordinary exhibit, “The Working Class Eye of Milton Rogovin.” I’ve been there three times and I expect I’ll go several times more before the exhibit closes. But the opportunity to hear about Rogovin AND view his photographs is too much to ignore! — Lew Rosenbaum]


 *Wednesday**, April **20**, 2011*
*Roosevelt University
Gage Gallery
18 S. Michigan Ave.

More about Milton Rogovin:  Click here

*Lecture by Melanie Herzog*

Melanie Herzog is professor of art history at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin.

*Author of /Milton Rogovin: The Making of a Social Documentary

‘Milton Rogovin celebrates the non-celebrated, the ones who make the world go round’. These words, spoken by prize-winning author Studs Terkel, are a fitting lens through which to view the work of Milton Rogovin, optometrist, political activist, and photographer. “Milton Rogovin: The Making of a Social Documentary Photographer” chronicles the story behind that life, and the man behind the acclaimed photographs that invite us to see for the first time, or to see anew, the tenacity, profound dignity, and resilience of people living in extremely difficult circumstances. Born in New York in 1909 to a Russian Jewish immigrant family, Rogovin was radicalized by the widespread deprivations he witnessed and experienced during the Depression, and he dedicated himself to working for social and economic justice. After military service in World War II, he began an optometry practice in Buffalo, and he and his wife became active politically, engaging in union organizing and voter registration in Buffalo’s African-American community. His activism led him to be called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and after refusing to testify, he was dubbed ‘Buffalo’s Number One Communist’. Much of his optometry clientele vanished, but, as he would realize, ‘there was also a positive result’ to the attacks. His political voice silenced, he turned to photography as a way to speak about social inequities. In the years that have followed, Rogovin has devoted himself to chronicling the lives of people in New York, Appalachia, Scotland, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Mexico, France, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Germany, and China. Scholar Melanie Herzog locates Rogovin within a tradition of social documentary photography that began when nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century sociologists took up the camera, or, more often, enlisted the service of photographers to advocate for social reform through visual representations of the plight of the poor. But while Rogovin’s work is undoubtedly political, he does not romanticize his subjects or seek to portray them as victims or heroes; he seeks simply to convey the effects of material reality on people and their agency, to show how people live in relation to social conditions. This richly illustrated retrospective features Rogovin’s own narrative of his development and life as a documentary photographer, amplified by an account of the historical events and circumstances that shaped his politics and social consciousness. Milton Rogovin has dedicated his life’s work – as an optometrist, an activist, and a photographer – to enabling people to see more clearly. His photographs demand witness, and to witness is to see.

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (September 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780295986340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295986340