‘Fight Like Hell’ author visits Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive


Mt. Olive, IL – Mary Harris “Mother Jones” was a true hero of the early Labor Movement in the United States, and she richly deserves all the accolades she gets even now, more than 90 years after her death, says the author of a new book about Jones and other American Labor leaders of the 1800s and early 1900s.

“If Mother Jones was still here, she would be right there with all the union workers who are still struggling for basic human rights,” Kim Kelly, author of Fight Like Hell, said at the recent annual Miners’ Day ceremony at the Mother Jones Monument at Jones’ grave in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Ill., a small town about 50 miles north of St. Louis off Interstate 55.

Kelly’s new book, Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor, is already a New York Times best-seller. She has been promoting the book in a national tour of the sites of various Labor battles for fair wages and better working conditions.

A New York Times review of the book, which is Kelly’s first, says she “unearths the stories of the people – farm laborers, domestic workers, factory employees – behind some of the Labor Movement’s biggest successes.” The book title references Mother Jones’ famous saying, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”

Kelly is an independent journalist, author, and organizer who lives in Philadelphia. She said she had never been to the legendary coal-producing areas of southern Illinois before her talk at the cemetery on Oct. 9 and her appearance at the Mother Jones Foundation Annual Dinner the evening before in Springfield, Ill.

At the Miners’ Day ceremony, Kelly listened intently and took several photos while other speakers told stories about Mother Jones and “her boys,” the miners who are buried near her at the union cemetery.

Having lost her husband and their four children to yellow fever at a young age, Jones spent the rest of her life dedicated to serving the coal miners and other union workers in their quest for better lives. She considered them her extended family, and requested to be buried near them.

Mother Jones died in November 1930 at age 100.


Loretta Williams, an actress who often portrays Mother Jones, spoke as the Labor leader in her Mother Jones attire about the 1898 Battle of Virden, Ill., or the Virden Massacre. Faced with a strike by the miners, the Chicago-Virden Coal Co. recruited scab strikebreakers. The company hired detectives from Thiel Detective Service Co., who were armed with Winchester rifles and orders to protect the strikebreakers.

Tensions came to a head on a train filled with strikebreakers and detectives that had stopped at Virden, in nearby Macoupin County.

The strikers were attempting to surround the train when the guards opened fire. The strikers were also armed and returned fire, but with much less powerful guns. Seven miners were killed and 30 wounded; four guards were also killed and five wounded.

“The miners were gunned down, repeatedly gunned down,” said Williams, as Mother Jones. “And our boys never stood a chance.

“And I’m not going to let anyone of you forget them!” she added. “We’ve got to keep fighting for our rights!”

Then, speaking for herself, Williams reminded the 60 or so people at the ceremony to vote for the Illinois Workers’ Rights Amendment (Amendment 1) on the state’s Nov. 8 ballot. “Turn your bullets into your ballots. Aim at the politicians, lawyers, and the businessmen!” she said.

The proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution would guarantee the right of workers to organize and negotiate with bosses for safe working conditions and fair pay.

Scott Thomas, president of United Mine Workers Local 1613, also spoke at the Miners’ Day ceremony and urged passage of the Workers’ Rights Amendment.

He noted that the first miners to strike over conditions in Illinois mines “oftentimes never reaped the rewards. They didn’t do it for themselves. They did it for their families and for those who later worked in the mines.”

Thomas said those at the ceremony didn’t need to strike to help improve workers’ lives. “All you have to do is vote ‘yes’ on Nov. 8 on the Workers’ Rights Amendment,” he said.

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