CLEVELAND – About 100 friends and activists in labor and progressive groups gathered at a memorial here Aug. 18 to pay tribute to Judy Gallo, who died recently at age 70 of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare, incurable disease.
Gallo had been a leader in the peace movement and active in labor and social justice campaigns and in the Communist Party in the Cleveland area since the mid-1970s.
Gallo came from a conservative working-class family in northeastern Pennsylvania. After graduating from college in 1963, she joined the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), working in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia.
She was arrested four times and saw first-hand the violence and brutality of the Jim Crow South as well as the courage of those fighting to end it. The experience had a transforming and radicalizing impact that changed her life.
After leaving the South, Gallo was hired as an organizer for the United Electrical Workers, working out of the New York office. Later, working for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union, she met Communists and joined the party, working in its labor commission.
She married John Gallo in 1974 and moved to Cleveland to be with his family. She soon became active in the effort to peacefully desegregate the city’s schools. She went to nursing school and got a job as an RN at MetroHealth, the county hospital, where she discovered nurses were forced to work overtime without pay. She led an effort that made the hospital compensate the nurses and later led a union organizing drive that was unsuccessful.
Gallo became active in the peace movement and held leadership positions in Peace Action and the local chapter of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
After retiring from MetroHealth, she worked at the United Labor Agency providing services and training to union members, served on the AFL-CIO Executive Board and its AFL-CIO Retirees Council as well as with Cleveland Jobs With Justice.
From 2003 to 2007 she served as coordinator of the Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition, which led voter registration efforts in the African American and Latino communities. In a six-page autobiography distributed at the memorial, she wrote of her experiences in the 2000 elections, “I became convinced that if people voted they would vote the right way for Gore and the Democrats.”
Gallo did interviews and headed up the Women’s History Project, which recently published a booklet with biographies of 16 local activists.
About 20 people spoke at the memorial. They included her surviving husband and their two sons, Jesse and Nick. Others were labor and community leaders including Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the Cleveland AFL-CIO, representatives of Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Betty Sutton, State Rep. Nickie Antonio and East Cleveland Councilwoman Barbara Thomas, the former president of AFSCME Local 3360 at MetroHealth.