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Labor Day in Pullman

Franklin Roosevelt will make a special appearance to mark the 75th anniversary of the New Deal — and local musicians will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Pullman Love-In — at a Labor Day celebration in the historic Pullman community.

Actors depicting Roosevelt and figures from Pullman labor history — Eugene Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and “local hero” Jennie Curtis — will give performances in the clock tower of the Pullman factory, and James Thindwa from Jobs With Justice will speak on challenges facing labor today.

Afterward local musicians who played at the 1968 Pullman Love-In and have continued jamming and gigging through the years will play, as families picnic in the park across the street and tours of the historic neighborhood are offered.

The program starts at 2 p.m. at the Pullman Clock Tower at 11035 S. Cottage Grove.

The day’s events begin with the fourth annual Labor Day bike ride from Pullman to Marktown in East Chicago, Indiana. Like Pullman, Marktown was a planned industrial community housing employees of the then-booming steel industry. Modeled on English Garden Cities and designed by Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1917, the community was saved from demolition in the 1950s. Today the Marktown Preservation Society is working for the community’s preservation and restoration.

Participants in the bike ride will leave from Pullman’s Hotel Florence at 9 a.m. and travel to Marktown and back, stopping for brief presentations at labor history sites including the site of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel.

Cast of Characters

Jennie Curtis was a young seamstress at the Pullman Company and president of the “girls’ local” of the American Railway Union there, and she was among the speakers at the ARU’s June 1894 convention who convinced delegates to back a strike by Pullman workers. In the Depression of 1893 Pullman had slashed wages by 25 percent and cut 2,000 jobs — while maintaining high rents and prices in the company town and stores where employees were required to live and shop.

Debs founded the ARU, the first industrial union in the United States, and 125,000 railroad workers refused to move trains with Pullman cars. The union was virtually destroyed by the strike after federal troops were called in to replace workers and union leaders were jailed. Debs served six months in jail for violating an injunction which prohibited him from communicating with union members during the strike. Upon his release he declared himself a socialist; he ran for president on the Socialist ticket five times, the final time as a prison inmate, incarcerated for speaking against World War I.

A. Philip Randolph organized Pullman porters into the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first union led by African-Americans to receive a charter in the AFL. Randolph and Brotherhood members across the country provided leadership to the civil rights movement through the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Pullman neighborhood is home of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porters Museum, 10406 S. Maryland.

Roosevelt’s New Deal provided protection for labor organizing which finally allowed the Pullman Porters and workers at the Pullman factory to win union contracts.


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Category: history, labor, preservation, Pullman


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