Back in the day on August 26th, 1919, labor organizer Fannie Sellins was brutally gunned down in West Pennsylvania. Dubbed ‘the angel of mercy’ for her unionizing efforts, Sellins had successfully organized workers in Missouri and West Virginia before United Mine Workers of America leader Philip Murray, impressed by her dedication, offered her a position with the union. Sellins then moved to Pennsylvania to begin organizing in the western part of the state. Assigned to the Allegheny-Kiski Valley, the area had a dubious reputation for repressing unionizing efforts. Undeterred, Sellins successfully organized workers anyway in the anti-union lands known to labor as “Black Valley.” As part of her efforts, Sellins was present on that fateful night when the workers of the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company were confronted by company guards and deputies. In the ensuing violence, she was shot to death as was a miner named Joseph Starzeleski.
As has been all too historically the case with the criminal injustice system, no one was ever convicted of killing Fannie Sellins. The “angel of mercy” was shown none.
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Tagged Allegheny Coal and Coke Company, Allegheny-Kiski Valley, Criminal Injustice, Fannie Sellins, History, Labor, Labor History, U.S. History, Unions, United Mine Workers of America, West Pennsylvania
The Battle of the Overpass
Back in the day on May 26th, 1937, the Battle of the Overpass took place between Union Auto Workers and “Ford Service Men.” After the UAW had organized effective sit-down strikes against Chrysler and General Motors, the union turned its sights on the notoriously anti-labor Ford Motor Company. Emboldened by the passage of the National Labor Relations Act two years prior, the UAW gained a permit to distribute leaflets at Ford’s River Rouge plant as part of their “Unionism, not Fordism,” campaign. An hour before workers on site were set for a shift change, UAW organizers Walter Reuther and Richard T. Frankensteen were among those present and posing for a newspaper photographer when they were approached and attacked by Harry H. Bennett’s “Ford Service Men.” One man suffered a broken back as a result of the thuggery and women organizers were beaten as well.
Ford and his henchmen, however, were taken to task for the incident of brutality when they were found to be in severe violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
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Tagged Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Men, General Motors, Harry H. Bennett, Henry Ford, Labor, Labor History, National Labor Relations Act, Richard T. Frankensteen, The Battle of the Overpass, U.S. History, Unionism, United Auto Workers, Walter Reuther
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
Back in the day on April 3rd, 1968 the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The emblematic civil rights leader was in Memphis, Tennessee at the time to support striking sanitation workers ahead of the planned Poor People’s March on Washington. As scholar Michael Eric Dyson has noted, King had felt tired and gloomy and almost had fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy speak in his place that night. Abernathy, however, successfully encouraged King to come and address the crowd that had gathered to see him. The superb orator then went on to deliver a speech in which he affirmed his principles of non-violence and his happiness with being a part of the history of that moment in time. Coming to masterful crescendo, King’s words publicly jettisoned his fears of death when he ended saying, “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The very next day an assassin’s bullet silenced the civil rights leader as we as a people have been struggling to get to the promised land ever since.
The Harlem Uprising of 1935
Back in the day on March 19th, 1935 Lino Rivera, a Puerto Rican youth in Harlem, was accused by white store owners of stealing a penknife. Taking place during the Great Depression where people of color suffered greatly, the Harlem Uprising that ensued from this seemingly small altercation began after rumors circulated about Rivera’s condition in policy custody. In response, an organized demonstration took place outside the store when a single rock thrown through its windows touched off events that resulted in three deaths, numerous injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. After the uprising died down, the Mayor of New York ordered a multiracial commission to analyze the causes. Led by African-American sociologist E. Franklin Fraizer, the subsequent report from the commission pointed to employment discrimination, police brutality and segregation as the principle reasons.
In the end, during the times of the New Deal reforms, African-Americans, as the Harlem Uprising illustrates, were still getting a raw deal.
Happy New Year 2009 from donpalabraz.com! Let us all continue to further our efforts in creating ‘peace on earth’ and ‘goodwill towards all humanity’ as we come nearer to the close of the first decade of the twenty-first century! Have fun tonight, and remember, don’t do anything *I* wouldn’t do!