Bread and Roses Missouri hosts fundraiser for ‘1877,’ a play about the first general strike in St. Louis

BREAD AND ROSES Executive Director Emily Kohring (left) with playwright Colin McLaughlin. – Labor Tribune photo


National and local Labor strikes have been in the headlines for months now.

But how many of you know the St. Louis General Strike of 1877, the first general strike in the United States over racial injustice, child labor and demands for the eight-hour day, took place in St. Louis and East St. Louis? It was organized mainly by the Knights of Labor and the Marxist-leaning Workingmen’s Party.

The strike was city-wide and included 20,000 workers. It was also the first time black and white workers organized together.

Bread and Roses Missouri is bringing a play, “1877,” by playwright Colin McLaughlin, to the Missouri History Museum to tell the story of the strike and its lasting impact on St. Louis and its unions.

Bread and Roses held a Bread and Rosé fundraiser Sept. 20 at Parker’s Table, 7118 Oakland Ave., to publicize the play.

“Bread and Roses celebrates the lives of workers and their families through arts and humanities events,” said Emily Kohring, executive director of Bread and Roses Missouri.

LONGTIME LABOR ACTIVIST and Bread & Roses founder Joan Suarez (left) with Bread and Roses Executive Director Emily Kohring. – Labor Tribune photo

“What we’re doing today is part of our workers’ theater project to tell the story of the Labor Movement and the working-class people on stage,” she said.

McLaughlin described the play as a “parable” about how we can stand up to this class structure and either do it together or not at all. And it’s got to be together.

“Twenty thousand workers took to the streets,” he said. “They ran the city nonviolently for three days, took over the trolleys, baked bread for each other, and organized, so it’s an incredible story of people coming together in this city.”

Attendees at the fundraiser dined on artisan bread, hummus, and tapenade with three rosé wines, then saw a scene performed by McLaughlin and Joshua Mayfield, a worker whom Colin McLaughlin is trying to convince to join the strike.

The play has six actors, who create dozens of characters, and features old work songs from that era.

“It was the post-Civil War reconstruction era, and workers weren’t getting a fair deal,” Kohring said. “It started with the railroad strike that was happening across the country and spread to St. Louis, where it turned into a general strike. It’s a story that a lot of people, even if they grew up in St. Louis, don’t know about,” she said.

The strike was crushed by wealthy business interests and resulted in the formation of the Veiled Prophet Parade, McLaughlin said.

PLAYWRIGHT Colin McLaughlin (left) and actor Joshua Mayfield perform a scene from the play. – Labor Tribune photo

A group called the Committee for Public Safety, owners of several industries, raised money to break the strike.

“After they broke the strike, which was on July 4, they said they had to make sure it never happened again,” McLaughlin said. “They said every July 4, they would have a parade with a show of force and fireworks and would call themselves the Veiled Prophets

“They were racist from the beginning, and the first Veiled Prophet, the king, was basically a Klansman,” he said. “The police commissioner that broke the strike was the first king.”

The workers were fighting for an eight-hour workday and an end to child labor. Those goals would not be achieved for several decades.

“I like to believe that it created the next generation of organizers that, over the decades, integrated the Labor Movement and the incredible strikes and protests in St. Louis since then,” he said. “ I like to think it showed what was possible.”

Bread and Roses Missouri celebrates the lives of workers and their families through arts and humanities events, Kohring said.

“What we’re doing today is part of our Workers’ Theater Project to tell the story of the Labor Movement and the working-class people on stage,” she said.

“1877” is being produced under the umbrella of the Bread and Roses Missouri Workers’ Theater Project, which produces the annual Workers’ Opera and develops and produces plays about working people. Their recent radio play “Mrs. Palmer’s Honey,” by Cassandra Medley was aired by KDHX and can be found on Spotify.

Last May, the Workers’ Opera presented “Blue Light Special” in solidarity with the Missouri Workers Center and the STL8 Amazon Workers Organizing Committee.

Directed by Jess Shoemaker, “1877”will be performed at the Lee Auditorium in the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The production will have a free preview night on Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Other performances will be held Friday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 19. The Sunday performance will include a post-show panel discussion with the audience.

Advance tickets are available online for $10 at Tickets are $13 if bought at the auditorium box office, which opens one hour before each performance. Unsold tickets will also be available on a pay-what-you-can basis a half hour before curtain time at each performance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top