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Frank Lumpkin

Frank and Bea Lumpkin

Word has come that Frank Lumpkin, a true working-class hero, passed away on Monday at the age of 93.  Many years before Republic Windows closed leaving its employees in the lurch, Lumpkin led the Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Commitee in an epic struggle after workers’ final paychecks bounced and promised benefits disappeared when the plant closed without warning in 1980.

After 17 years of battles in the courts, in the streets, and in legislatures going all the way to the U.S. Congress, the committee (and its lawyers including Tom Geoghegan) won a $19 million settlement.

Along with the company, Lumpkin and his fellow workers also had to take on a company union dominated by Alderman Edward Vrdolyak’s machine which cooperated in shafting the employees.

Frank is best remembered in Always Bring A Crowd, the biography by Beatrice Lumpkin, his wife of 60 years, published in 1999.  It’s the story of a brave and caring man — and also of the role of the left-wing black workers (including Frank’s mother and sister) in fighting racism in the decades before the civil rights movement.

Born in Georgia in 1916, one of ten children, Frank came north with his entire family (to Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1940.  He became a steelworker at Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant two years later, served in the Merchant Marines during the war, married Bea and moved to Chicago in 1949, started at Wisconsin Steel in 1950 and worked there till it was shut down thirty years later.  He ran for state representative as an independent in 1988.  His slogan was, “Send a Steelworker to Springfield.”

He never seemed to be without his hat, an old-style fedora.  A passage in Bea’s book suggests one possible reason.

After a racist mob shut down Paul Robeson’s 1949 Peekskill concert, a second concert was announced for the next week, and Frank and four other steelworkers decided to make the trip from Buffalo.  They got there late, and the mob was waiting outside.

As Bea recounts it, Frank recalled:  “Having experience with that kind of action, I had my hat on, because that hat had cushioned many a blow for me.”

[Lumpkin’s age was given incorrectly in an earlier version.]

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Category: authors, civil rights, history, labor, Southeast Side


3 Responses

  1. Betty Smith says:

    Thank you for this fine remembrance of Frank Lumpkin.

  2. Pat Flagg says:

    great story about a great man! thanks.

  3. Curtis says:

    John Bachtell has a full-scale obituary at the People’s World, with a link to Chicago Tonight’s rebroadcast of its wonderful 1993 profile of Frank —

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