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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

May Day

Haymarket Massacre May 4 1886 Chicago
May Day is celebrated on May 1 each year. The holiday has a long history in European culture, celebrated in Roman times as the Festival of (the goddess) Flora (flowers); in pagan cultures as a welcoming of spring, renewal, and rebirth. As Europe became Christianized, many of the religious underpinnings of  these festivals were merged or subsumed into Christian holidays. However, May Day itself remained and is still celebrated in many cultures around the world. In the 19th century, with the emergence of workers' rights, demands and manifestos, May Day also became a commemoration of those lives lost in the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 (May 4) in Chicago. The Russian Revolution in 1917 added further layering of this holiday, celebrated in industrial areas, as workers demanded better pay, working conditions, and benefits.

T. Thomas Fortune
T. Thomas Fortune was an African American journalist (and newspaper owner), editor, and writer. He  was one of the first intellectuals to posit the thesis in his book Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the Old South (1884), that class conflict rather than racial strife was central to the struggles of African Americans after the Civil War. On April 20,1886, Fortune delivered a speech titled The Present Relations of Labor and Capitol. Two weeks after this speech, over 350,000 workers across the United States went on strike, people sacrificed their lives. Fortune's speech was published on May 1,1886 in his newspaper, The New York Freeman.

 An influential leader in the early 20th century was Benjamin Harrison Fletcher in his role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW also known as Wobblies). He was a longshoreman, leader, and orator. The IWW was the most radical of unions, the most racially integrated, and the most committed to working on behalf of all workers regardless of race. Most unions were segregated and most non-white unions suffered from lack of support in the broader society. African Americans have played a major role in advocating workers' rights and instrumental in the history of the growth and development of labor organizations in this country. This history continues today, despite the general decline in the size and power of labor unions.

Most of the links/references in this blog post will take the reader to BlackPast.org. The contents of BlackPast.org are the result of hours of volunteer time and energy. The website for BlackPast.org requires a major overhaul inorder to continue to give readers a rich, valuable experience and resource. Please consider making a donation at this LINK.  Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks to all those who contributed to BlackPast.org during GiveBIG: we are grateful for your support!

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