MOUNT OLIVE, Ill. (PAI) – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones has been a symbol of the struggles and victories of the labor movement for over a century. Mother Jones was a fearless fighter for workers’ rights and was once labeled the most dangerous woman in America.
Why? She fought for everyone’s rights and her organizing efforts included women, minorities and children. And she spent time in jail several times because of her commitment to working men and women. She was quoted as saying “If they want to hang me, let them. And on the scaffold I will shout ‘Freedom for the working class!'”
But what many don’t realize is that Mother Jones is buried about 60 miles south of Springfield, Ill., in Mt. Olive, just off Interstate 55.
Mother Jones died in 1930, at age 100, and was buried with her miners in the Union Miners Cemetery. For decades she fought for workers – her last arrest, during a dressmakers’ strike, was in 1924.
But for decades, her monument and the cemetery have needed restoration. With the help of the Illinois AFL-CIO State Senator Andy Manar, who helped secure a grant from the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity, and many others, the project began two years ago. After much hard work since then, the Mother Jones Foundation finally realized their dreams, enough money was raised and restoration was completed last month.
Now comes the culmination: A rededication ceremony is scheduled for June 20, at 10 a.m. at the Mt. Olive cemetery. The rededication coincides with the 150th celebration of the city of Mt. Olive. The event will include unveiling of the monument and special recognition of donors, music, refreshments and speakers.
Jack Dyer, who serves on the Foundation, says this is a dream come true.”We didn’t think we would be able to raise enough money, but it snowballed beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. Of course, the United Mine Workers stepped up with a sizeable contribution. We have raised $114,000 so far to take care of all the needs. We are also purchasing acreage for a pavilion.”
Dyer says fundraising still continues because the cemetery and monument will need care far into the future. He added that for many years the money raised to mow the lawn and some maintenance was taken care of by bake sales, quilt sales from local union women. “Michael Carrigan with the Illinois AFL-CIO got behind the project and it snowballed.”
“The historic landmark celebrates the courage of a woman who fought most of her life for the rights of others, and offers a glimpse into the hardships of a coal miner, and the dangerous fight unions waged in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The improvements are expected to inspire thousands of guests each month to visit the small community of Mt. Olive,” the Illinois AFL-CIO stated.
Born in Ireland, Mother Jones came to America at a very young age with her family. In her 20s she moved to Chicago to become a dressmaker. She later moved to Memphis, Tenn., where she met and married George Jones, an iron molder and staunch unionist. In 1867, tragedy hit: She lost her whole family, her husband and four children, to the yellow fever epidemic. Jones moved back to Chicago to make dresses for the wealthy and elite of the Windy City. This experience sparked her interest in the labor movement. In 1871, tragedy again hit, when she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire.
After that, Jones committed herself to the labor movement and started traveling all across the country to help in labor struggles. Men of the railway union gave her the “Mother Jones” name in 1897 and it stuck. That same year, she spent her time with mineworkers in their nationwide strike, which affected 9,000 workers.
Her commitment to the miners all across the United States earned her the respect of working men and women from border to border and from union to union. Wherever there was a struggle Mother Jones was there. She was quoted as saying, “My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong.”
While the Mother Jones Monument has been restored, money is needed for its continuing upkeep. Donations can be sent to: Mother Jones Monument Fund, Illinois AFL-CIO, 534 S. Second St., Springfield, Ill., 62701.
Sharon Williams, Editor, The Labor Paper
Photo: The Labor Paper Facebook page