The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Illinois graveyard monument to labour activist Mother Jones to get makeover, with union help

  • Print

ST. LOUIS - Union workers are chipping in to give a makeover to a monument for firebrand labour activist Mother Jones, more than 80 years after their predecessors and school kids scrimped pennies during the Great Depression to build the towering structure at her Illinois gravesite.

Local politicians joined labour leaders Tuesday in a union-owned Mount Olive cemetery northeast of St. Louis to announce that a drive led by the AFL-CIO cobbled together more than $60,000 for the cause. Donors, from more than 100 different union groups, come from 17 states, stretching from California to New York and contributing anything from $5 to $5,000.

"The legacy of Mother Jones is one we treasure," Michael Carrigan, the Illinois AFL-CIO's president said during a ceremony this week announcing the fundraising results.

Dedicated six years after her death in 1930 at the age of 93, the 80-ton Minnesota granite obelisk honours the woman who was born Mary Harris Jones, the white-haired, 5-foot-tall former seamstress who was in the thick of some of the nation's most venomous labour disputes.

Many have likened her to Martin Luther King Jr., with her struggle for worker rights analogous to King's push for civil ones.

"I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell-raiser," she once proclaimed in her legendary profanity-peppered rhetoric.

Jones was in Washington in 1898 when more than a dozen men were killed in gunfire exchanged during a labour dispute at the mine in Virden near here. The deadly clash, touched off when replacement workers tried to pass through a group of armed strikers, became known as the "Virden Riot" — to unionists, the "Virden Massacre." More than 40 others were wounded.

Four of the dead miners were from Mount Olive, where they initially were buried in the town cemetery before that land owner objected to ceremonies and other activities miners held there.

The Lutheran cemetery barred the dead miners because the minister denounced them as "murderers," John Keiser wrote in 1969 for the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.

Jones later wrote she wanted to be buried near the miners she called "those brave boys."

She got her wish.

Jones' elaborate monument has a large medallion bearing her likeness, and it's flanked by bronze statues of two standing miners — one holding a pickax, the other a sledgehammer. A bronze plaque on the base, in part, warns, "Let no traitor breathe o'er my grave."

A simple stone in the ground marks Jones' plot, sandwiched between those of the dead from Virden and that of "General" Alexander Bradley, a self-appointed United Mine Workers of America organizer around the turn of the 20th century.

Two other bronze plaques list the names of Illinois miners who between 1932 and 1936 gave "their lives to the cause of clean unionism in America."

The cemetery and its monument were declared a national historic site in 1972. As part of the renovation, the statues will be cleaned and plagues upgraded. A local bricklayers' union will donate $15,000 worth of labour to rework the graveyard's entrance, and plans are afoot to create a local Mother Jones museum.

"While she was hated by corporations, she was loved by the workers who turned to her for justice in the workplace," Carrigan said.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart - The Floodway Connection

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning
  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google