Mt. Olive, IL – Mother Jones and the fallen miners that she held in such high esteem were remembered and honored on Miners Day, Oct. 11, at Union Miners Cemetery here.
About 60 mask-wearing and socially distanced people attended the low-key event at the union-owned cemetery, where the great Labor leader asked to be buried upon her death so she could be with miners buried there. The miners were killed by strike-breaking troops in the Battle of Virden exactly 122 years earlier.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea issued a statement for the event: “The Union Miners Cemetery is a hallowed ground that preserves the memories of workers’ struggles and is the final resting place of essential workers that brought this nation through two world wars, several economic downturns and periods of labor unrest,” he said.
“We will never forget the martyrs buried here, and we will continue to seek guidance in the words of Mother Jones to ‘Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!’ ”
STORY AND SONG
Loretta Williams, a member of the Mother Jones Museum Board, once again portrayed Mother Jones. She explained how Mother Jones decided to be buried at the little-known union cemetery.
Nick Krumwelde of the museum board performed a song about the Battle of Virden that he composed for the event. The Wildflower Conspiracy musical duo performed union songs as they do for all of the Mother Jones Museum events, this time including “Joe Hill,” “Bread and Roses” and “Spring Hill Nova Scotia Disaster.”
Among other speakers, Mike Katchmar of the board described the work of his mother, Marie Frigo Katchmar, who tended the cemetery for many years.
Scott Thomas, president of UMWA Local 1613, announced the donation of a commemorative bench for the cemetery in honor of the late Donnie Stewart, a miner and activist.
MAY DAY FESTIVAL NEXT YEAR
The museum, located in the City Hall nearby, is now known as “Mother Jones Museum at Mt. Olive,” to distinguish it from other Mother Jones locations. Its board has established a website, motherjonesmuseummtolive.org.
The board is now working on a podcast series with interviews of the descendants of miners and of Labor activists.
The group’s next event will be the first International Mother Jones Festival at Mt. Olive, to be held next May Day – May 1, 2021 – in collaboration with the cemetery, the city and Labor groups. It was to be held this year but was postponed because of the pandemic.
Dr. Helain Silverman, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and co-director of the Mythic Mississippi Project, sent greetings that referenced the current presidential campaign.
“Since Mother Jones is well known to have used salty language, we will follow her example on this special day with the vernacular expression of our fervent hope that a large segment of the citizenry of our country wake up to the fact that they are being screwed,” she said. “That is what she would have wanted, and she would have called for action.”