Columbus Day: Italian-Americans and Native Americans both celebrate

Columbus Day parade in San Francisco

A float in an earlier Columbus Day Italian Heritage Parade in San Francisco. (Used via Wikimedia Commons.)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 14: All year long, celebrations across North America reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity.

But few holidays expose the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now called the Americas in 1492. For more than a century, the holiday has been championed by Italian-Americans as showcasing their many contributions to the U.S. But some regions of the country now decline to celebrate this national observance, questioning whether Columbus’s arrival is something Native people should celebrate.

PEW RESEARCH MAPS THE DIVIDE

NEW IN 2019, Pew Research has published an in-depth look at the varying approaches to this annual milestone across the U.S.

The Pew report begins: “Depending on where you live and whom you work for, Columbus Day may be a paid day off, another holiday entirely, or no different from any regular Monday. Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, is one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. It’s one of 10 official federal holidays, which means federal workers get a paid day off. And because federal offices will be closed, so will most banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt (though the stock markets will remain open). Beyond that, it’s a grab bag.”

Here is a link to the entire Pew report—with accompanying maps so you can see how your part of the U.S. compares with others.

2 CITIES BY THE BAY CELEBRATE 2 WAYS

Proud Italian-American communities on the East Coast host parades, parties and other events—but San Francisco claims to host the nation’s oldest and biggest Columbus-related bash. In fact, the celebration started several days ago around the Bay Area. The San Francisco-based group claims that in 1869: “San Francisco’s first Columbus Day Celebration marked the first time in America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.”

That first parade “took place in San Francisco’s downtown featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the Santa Maria with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.”

In nearby Berkeley, California, an alternative celebration, Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day took off in the 1990s.

 

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Labor Day: Americans celebrate, but Labor Day is about far more than picnics

Lewis Hine child laborers in 1908 at Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C.

REMEMBERING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT: Sociologist Lewis Hine took this photo in 1908, showing some of the doffers with their superintendent. A doffer tended the spindles on the machine, removing full ones and replacing with empty; ten small boys and girls about this size would be employed in a force of 40 employees. Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2: Travel, parades and picnics are abundant this Labor Day weekend, but alongside the festivities, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers.

Our opening photo, above, is one of many preserved by sociologist Lewis Hines. Consider creating your own Labor Day-themed media. You could share a message with friends on social media—or perhaps put together a discussion for your small group or class.  Wikimedia Commons provides many of Hine’s classic images that you are free to use.)

Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition of workers’ rights by the American labor movement. The first Labor Day celebration, observed in 1882 in New York City, attracted more than 10,000 workers who marched through the streets. Beyond recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day makes us aware of the countless workers who have, together, contributed to the strength and prosperity of their country.

John Wesley open air preaching

John Wesley drew the fury of many critics for preaching in public places, wherever crowds of working people and their families could gather to hear him.

LABOR AND FAITH

The value of human labor is echoed throughout the Abrahamic tradition, including stories and wisdom about the nature of labor in both the Bible and the Quran. Biblical passages ask God to “prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90), while the Quran refers to the morality of conducting oneself in the public square.

The Catholic church has been preaching on behalf of workers for more than a century. The landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of revolutionary change”) was published in 1891 and has been described as a primer on the rights of laborers who face abusive conditions in the workplace. This became one of the central themes of Pope John Paul II’s long pontificate. In 1981, he published his own lengthy encyclical, Laborem Exercens (“On human work”). Then, a decade later, John Paul returned to this milestone in Catholic teaching in Centisimus Annus (“Hundredth year”).

For 2019, the United Methodist Church published a nationwide appeal to church leaders to remember the central issues still faced by workers around the world. Titled “Labor Day Is Not Just a Day Off,” the text says in part:

Did you know The United Methodist Church has been a part of the labor movement throughout history and is committed to fairness and justice in the workplace? In the early 20th century the church was working to end child labor. And in the ’50s, during our country’s civil rights movement, we were fighting for fair wages and better working conditions. We were dedicated to fairness and justice in the workplace then, and we still are today.

When John Wesley founded the Methodist movement during the 18th century, there was no “worker movement” the way we’d understand it today. But Wesley preached to and cared for coal miners and other oppressed workers. He also opposed slavery. After Wesley died, his followers continued to work against workplace injustices in rapidly industrializing England, adopting the first Social Creed, in 1908, that dealt exclusively with labor practices.

Child laborers in a mine by Lewis Hine 1908.

It may be hard to tell at first glance, but these miners also were child laborers documented by Lewis Hine in 1908.

FROM 12-HOUR DAYS AND DANGEROUS CONDITIONS TO UNIONS

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans had to work 12-hour days every day of the week to make a living. Child labor was at its height in mills, factories and mines, and young children earned only a portion of an adult’s wage. Dirty air, unsafe working conditions and low wages made labor in many cities a dangerous occupation. As working conditions worsened, workers came together and began forming labor unions: through unions, workers could have a voice by participating in strikes and rallies. Through unions, Americans fought against child labor and for the eight-hour workday.

Some labor demonstrations turned violent—such as the Haymarket Riot of 1886, which is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world. Instead of a May holiday, however, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months, in the civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families.

Oregon became the first state to declare Labor Day a holiday, in 1887, and by 1896, Labor Day was a national holiday.

LABOR IN 2019

For Labor Day weekend 2019, the Pew Research Center published 10 Facts about American Workers. That list includes these top-line conclusions:

  • Over the past 35 years, the share of American workers who belong to labor unions has fallen by about half.
  • Americans generally like unions and broadly support the right of workers to unionize.
  • Most American workers are employed in the service sector.
  • About 16 million Americans are self-employed, according to BLS data from July of this year.
  • American women earn 85 cents on the dollar compared with men, but that gap is narrower among younger workers.
  • The wage gap between young workers with college degrees and their less-educated counterparts is the widest in decades.
  • More older Americans are working than in previous decades.

 

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Categories: National Observances

Labor Day: How much do you know about faith and work? Try this quiz!

David Briggs quiz on Faith and Work for Labor Day

HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW about faith in the workplace? Click this image to visit the Association of Religion Data Archives website and take religion writer David Briggs’ online quiz.

“If Labor Day is observed as it ought to be, the gospel of humanity will be understood by all men and women.”
Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor outreach

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: Amid parades, festivities and traveling this Labor Day weekend, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers.

Labor Day honors a value that has been a part of religious reflection for thousands of years—the value of human labor. Psalm 90 in the Bible ends with a prayer that God will “prosper the work of our hands.” In Islam, the Quran talks at length about the nature of our work and the morality of conducting ourselves in the public square. For two centuries, popes have written extensively about the sacred nature of labor.

At ReadTheSpirit, we were pleased to see that our colleague religion writer David Briggs published an entire Labor Day quiz, based on recent research into the connections between faith and labor. As David reports, “Faith matters in the lives of working Americans. It matters in their choice of a vocation: Other than marriage, the choice of a job or career is the next major life decision most likely to be influenced by faith, a study by Brandeis University researchers found.”

TRY DAVID BRIGGS’ QUIZ … Click on the image with this column—or just click here—and you’ll jump to his interactive quiz.

AMERICAN LABOR DAY:
A HISTORY ROOTED IN RELIGION

Black-and-white photo of people on streets in early 20th century, leisurely gatherings and walking in a built-up downtown

A Labour Day parade in Toronto, Canada, 1900. Labour Day was made an official holiday by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson in July of 1894; less than one month later, Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why do we refer to “American Labor Day” in this column? Because American leaders in the late 1800s feared that a May holiday, which was favored by labor activists, would encourage memories of the tragic Haymarket conflict in Chicago. What began as a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square wound up in headlines around the world after a bomb went off, police opened fire and many were killed or wounded. The tragedy continued through subsequent court cases. That May event in Haymarket Square well over a century ago is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world.

Instead of a May holiday, then, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months in our civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families. (Wikipedia has details.)

In addition, the Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”—dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

In the late 1800s, leaders in the Knights of Labor worked diligently to spread awareness of this holiday. Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights’ outreach, wrote on the influence of religion, “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workingmen embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.” Powderly’s preamble to the union’s Declaration of Principles quoted Scripture, and the leader himself was a devout Catholic. (The Huffington Post published an article on this subject.)

2014 NEWS: JOB CORPS
MARKS 50 YEARS OF OPPORTUNITY

President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” launched a series of programs intended to restore the nation’s promise of equality and opportunity—and, on Aug. 20, 1964, President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act. Part of this Act established the Job Corps, a residential education and training program for disadvantaged young people, and centers across the country are marking 50 years with open houses, demonstrations and more. Though the official anniversary was Aug. 20, take some time today to learn more about this fundamental part of labor history in America. (Learn more from the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Here’s an irony: Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers. More Americans work in the retail industry than any other, resulting in longer hours for the day that was intended to provide leisure for the country’s workers.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: National Observances

Memorial Day 2014: Arlington is 150 and ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is 200

White gravestones by the hundreds on grassy field with a flag next to each gravestone

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Arlington National Cemetery. Photo in public domain courtesy of Fotopedia

MONDAY, MAY 26: Next year, America will mark the 150th anniversary of the first “official” Memorial Day observance—but this year marks two other major anniversaries: 2014 marks both the 150th anniversary of the Arlington Cemetery and the 200th anniversary of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Events are kicking off in Washington, D. C. and throughout the nation, including parades, speeches, decorated memorials and more. Families and friends are gathering for beginning-of-summer barbecues that have become a natural part of the holiday.

As America’s economy improves, AAA predicts soaring numbers of travelers for this holiday weekend. Perhaps you’re one of the 36.1 million travelers who will spend Memorial Day weekend more than 50 miles away from home, according to AAA, or you may be taking in events in your hometown. But the overall focus of this holiday is supposed to be America’s fallen heroes—so, keep reading to learn more about the real history of this often-misunderstood holiday.

25th Anniversary of National Memorial Day Concert

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the National Memorial Day Concert, which takes place in Washington, D.C. and is carried on PBS. Check the website for local listings—and remember, it takes place the evening before Memorial Day, on Sunday, May 25.

EVENTS COAST TO COAST

Italian sausages on the grill

Will you be barbecuing this Memorial Day? Photo by Steven Depolo, courtesy of Flickr

Wherever you go, keep safety tips in mind if you’ve hit the road for the holiday weekend: Today.com offers plenty of tips, as do several publications and even the U.S. Government.

What, exactly, is going on across the nation?

Aside from thousands of local events …

  • Disney Parks are launching a bi-coastal, all-night party, with a Rock Your Disney Side event that urges visitors of all ages to dress as their favorite Disney hero or villain.
  • Many historic sites, from Williamsburg to landmarks in Washington, D.C., will be offering special deals before the summer crowds set in, so check online listings.
  • And last, but certainly not least, many will uphold a tradition that was part of the first Memorial Day observances, long before holiday-weekend travel became the norm: friends and family gathering at the gravesite of a deceased loved one lost in service, or at a family burial ground. Rather than barbecuing in a backyard or park, some families actually bring their food to the cemetery, enjoying a potluck “dinner on the ground” while remembering lost ancestors. Of course, this isn’t allowed everywhere—so, if you like this idea, check cemetery policies in advance.

Looking for great recipes to kick-start your Memorial Day?

Start with Parade, which offers 10 side dishes for Memorial Day grilling, then check out Food Network and Taste of Home for complete menus. The sophisticated palate will appreciate recipes from Food and Wine, and home cooks everywhere can turn to AllRecipes. Those looking for a healthier alternative to the traditional comfort foods of Memorial Day can look into the suggestions from Eating Well.

MEMORIAL DAY & DECORATION DAY:
WHAT’S THE REAL HISTORY?

Want to learn more about the early history of “Decoration Day”? Check one of our earlier Memorial Day stories or this story about Decoration Day’s origins.)

Black-and-white cartoon of boy and girl sitting in graveyard in period clothes

An early political cartoon for Decoration Day, by John T. McCutcheon. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

Long credited to women’s groups, the start of the first “real” Memorial Day is now being corrected in history books, publications and archives, largely due to the concentrated efforts of Yale historian David Blight: The first Memorial Day did, in fact, take place in May 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, and was organized by African Americans and former slaves. After tireless research, Blight argues that the nation’s first Memorial Day observance was reported on in the Charleston Daily Courier, and took place on May 1, 1865. As of 2014, Wikipedia reports:

During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

From that first ceremony in 1865, Decoration/Memorial kinds of celebrations spread like wildfire: In 1868, General John Logan issued a proclamation for a “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide, and it was observed for the first time that year, on May 30. By 1869, memorial events were held in 336 cemeteries. Michigan became the first northern state to declare “Decoration Day” an official state holiday, and by 1890, every other northern state had done the same. The name gradually changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day,” and the official name was declared by Federal law in 1967. One year later, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moving Memorial Day from its traditional date of May 30 to the last Monday in May.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: National Observances

Presidents Day, aka Washington’s Birthday (and Lincoln’s too!)

Kids crafts for Lincoln and Washington birthdaysMONDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2014: “Washington’s Birthday,” a federal holiday popularly known as Presidents Day (punctuation of the day’s name varies).

FEBRUARY 12: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1809.

FEBRUARY 22: George Washington’s birthday in 1732.

Once upon a time, Americans marked the birthdays of two of our most beloved presidents each February. During the Christmas season, families who watch the 1942 musical Holiday Inn (the first film in which Bing Crosby sang White Christmas) know that Bing’s Vermont-based inn hosted separate celebrations for each presidential birthday. Through the 1950s and 1960s, millions of American school children cut up construction paper and made faces of both presidents on two different days.

Today, American culture tends to smoosh both men (and sometimes even more presidents) into something called “Presidents Day,” but that isn’t the name of the federal holiday that falls on February 17 this year. That’s still officially called “Washington’s Birthday”—even though the current version of Washington’s Birthday never seems to fall on his actual birth date. If this sounds like a classic example of D.C. bureaucracy … well … consider …

WAHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY
Our first president’s birthday was declared a holiday by the U.S. Congress in 1879. Nearly a century later, in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act began moving the first president’s birthday around the calendar to ensure that, each year, workers would get a three-day weekend.

LINCOLN’S LIMITED BIRTHDAY
To make matters more confusing, Lincoln’s Birthday is an official February 12 holiday in a handful of U.S. states ranging from California to Connecticut and, of course, including Illinois. Given the deep regional divisions following the Civil War, the entire nation wasn’t likely to celebrate the 16th president’s birthday. Currently, Arizona, Missouri and West Virginia are about as far South as Lincoln’s statewide birthday celebrations extend.

AN INSPIRING LOOK AT LINCOLN’S VALUES
For Lincoln’s birthday in 2014, Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer takes an inspiring look at what Abraham Lincoln would say about American values, today. What values? Newcomer uses the 10 core values documented in a new book by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker and compares that list of 10 with Lincoln’s life and legacy. (Because this is a sesquicentennial era of the Civil War, ReadTheSpirit has many Lincoln-related resources.)

HOW SHOULD YOU SPELL THIS HOLIDAY?
Take your pick—and, students, follow your teachers’ instructions. Some gurus of the English language still insist that the popular holiday should be spelled Presidents’ Day with an apostrophe. But, the widely used Associated Press Stylebook says: No apostrophe is needed.

TASTE OF PRESIDENTS DAY

FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis offers a creative—and oh so yummy—solution to celebrating both presidents! She’s got a recipe for a Cherry and Apple Pie (plus a story about her own holiday memories and how they affected her appearance on the Jeopardy! game show).

CELEBRATING:
SHOP … SHOP … SHOP
(AND GO TO SCHOOL?)

Each year, as government offices, banks and other organizations close down for the holiday—retailers do their best to rack up mid-winter sales. Beyond department stores and shopping centers, General Motors is running a Presidents Day sale through the end of February, aimed especially at moving full-sized pickup trucks at Chevrolet and Buick-GMC dealers. Check Sunday newspapers on February 16 for a load of advertisements!

Clearly our 30th president (Cal Coolidge) was onto something, when he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925: “The chief business of the American people is business.”

FRESH IDEAS
Every year, ideas surface for expanding the observance. The Buffalo News, this year, argues that residents in that part of New York state should honor two often-forgotten presidents: Millard Filmore (No. 13) and Grover Cleveland (No. 24), the two men who made it from Buffalo all the way to the White House. No word yet on whether that particular observance will go viral in western New York.

BACK TO SCHOOL?
Public schools usually close on Presidents Day, but this year a growing number of school districts in the northern states are planning to stay open to make up for the extra “snow days” these districts already have taken in this especially bitter winter season.

VISIT ONE OF OUR NATION’S PARKS
Here’s a treat for your family … The National Park Service has announced: “All 401 national parks will provide free admission to everyone February 15-17 to honor our nation’s leaders and their accomplishments. Visit one of the scores of national parks with a direct connection to a president, including birthplaces, homes, monuments, memorials, and historic sites. … Check the calendar of events to find special activities taking place in national parks across the country.”

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: National Observances

Changing American attitudes: Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

In a ceremony held weeks after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. sailors honor men killed that day. U.S. Navy photo.

In a ceremony held weeks after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. sailors honor men killed that day. U.S. Navy photo.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7: This is a relatively new holiday in the United States, even though the tragedy occurred on December 7, 1941, and its long-delayed enactment by the U.S. Congress, in 1994, is in keeping with Americans’ long process of coming to terms with the traumatic violence.

Pearl Harbor remembrance is a fascinating insight into how dramatically media has changed the nature of global conflict. Now, history-making protests across the Arab world and even supposedly secretive military attacks are blasted around the world via digital messages, photos and video—often in “real time.” But in 1941, Hawaii was not yet a state and most Americans were not even aware of where the islands were situated. When the first news reports of “the day that will live in infamy” reached American newspapers and radio stations, the news came with only sketchy details of the devastating Japanese attack.

Very few photos and almost no film footage of the Pearl Harbor attack were released that December. Even LIFE, and other influential news magazines, were unable to get photos past U.S. censors who barred use of all but a small number of photos as a matter of national security. Many of the iconic photos Americans now recognize from Pearl Harbor were only shown to Americans one year later. Major metropolitan newspapers ran December 7, 1942, anniversary issues in which advertisers competed to buy the most anti-Japanese advertisements they could envision. Splashed across newspaper front pages that day were huge, shocking photographs of the attack.

While the slow release of the photos and film footage might be seen as calming war hysteria, the opposite was true. Canadian Japanese internment began in January 1942. The American Japanese process began a month later with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s  Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, which eventually was interpreted as excluding all people of Japanese ancestry from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Eventually, in 1988, Congress passed—with the support of President Ronald Reagan—legislation that apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation said that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Today, there are many instances of men and women from both sides of the Pacific conflict coming together to jointly remember the past and encourage a more peaceful future. One place that occurs is at the Manzanar National Historic Site, where survivors of the interment often are side by side with military veterans. Of course, such opportunities are rapidly fading. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day stories in regional newspapers across the U.S., this year, tend to be mentioning each local area’s “last surviving Pearl Harbor vet,” like this story from Cincinnati.

CARE TO LEARN MORE? National Geographic has one of the best interactive, multi-media overviews of the Pearl Harbor attack. From this landing page, you can watch video, read further stories, listen to audio clips—and come away with a good understanding of what unfolded that day. Scholastic also provides educational materials and lesson plans for various age groups.

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Categories: National Observances

Labor Day: New year for schools & NFL has a long union history

Samuel Gompers Labor Memorial in Washington DC.

Samuel Gompers Labor Memorial in Washington DC.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2: From coast to coast, you can smell the barbecue and, in some communities, you’ll still see fireworks after sunset! Americans celebrate Labor Day as one last blast of summer—before the start of a new school year, more intensified fall-and-winter schedules in many companies and, of course, the return of the NFL and college football!

But the holiday has a long and hard-won history in the U.S. labor movement.

Wikipedia has an in-depth overview with links to read more about the early roots of Labor Day in the late 1800s. The phrase “hard-won” is accurate because federal officials didn’t enact the holiday until after deaths in the Pullman railway strike of 1894. In response to nationwide concern about the use of violence against workers in the Pullman strike, Congress moved rapidly to enact a holiday honoring workers. However, political leaders wanted to avoid the movement toward an International Workers Day in early May to remember deaths in the Chicago Haymarket Square bombing in 1886. Some American unions also backed the later date for an American holiday—and “the first Monday of September” is now a fixture in American life every year.

ARE AMERICANS ANTI-LABOR?

This news may surprise you! Two years ago, in 2011, Pew researchers issued a startling report headlined “Unions Face Uncertain Future.” Pew polls found American attitudes toward organized labor at a low point. But, this summer? Pew reports a different story, headlined Favorable Views of Business, Labor Rebound. The new report says, in part:

“Favorable opinions of both business corporations and labor unions have rebounded from record lows reached in the summer of 2011. Overall, more Americans now hold a favorable (55%) than an unfavorable (39%) view of business corporations; two years ago, opinion was reversed (52% unfavorable, 38% favorable). Similarly, views of labor unions have returned to positive territory, with 51% holding a favorable view and 42% holding an unfavorable view – far better ratings than the 46% unfavorable/41% favorable balance of opinion registered in 2011.”

COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF LABOR

Pro labor comic book Cliff Merritt and the very candid candidateThis year, stories about the influence of comic books are back in newspaper and TV news, mainly because of U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s creation of a graphic novel, ‘March,’ to teach a new generation about the civil rights movement.

Thanks to comic artist and historian Tom Christopher, we’ve also got a fascinating online history of comic books used in the American labor movement. In Tom’s historical overview (which includes some screen shots of these collectible classics), he demonstrates that companies, unions and even some bigoted groups distributed comic books in the campaign to sway American attitudes toward organized labor.

In our view at Read The Spirit, one of the best sections of Tom’s history concerns the old “Cliff Merritt” comics, which still show up in shops and websites that sell classic comic books. Cliff Merritt was drawn and presented as a good, solid American guy, whom Tom describes as looking a lot like the actor Robert Young (starring in TV’s Father Knows Best at the time). Some top names in comic history worked on these indie projects.

So, as a unique Labor Day treat for our readers, this year—enjoy Tom Christopher’s story of an unknown chapter in our American labor history. Tom reminds us of an era when the labor movement made common sense in households nationwide. One issue in the pro-labor comic series was called Cliff Merritt Sets the Record Straight. In that issue, Tom writes: Cliff “is about to retire from the railroad, and he’s given a dinner which he uses as an occasion to make a quick speech about progress in economics and safety through union activity. Cliff lives with his son and his family and he learns that his grand daughter has had a tiff with her boyfriend over the legitimacy of union activities. He calls the youngsters together and gives them a slideshow detailing union history and demonstrating the need for a union to ensure workers’ rights and safety. The young lovers make up and head off to the malt shop for a soda.”

From all of us at ReadTheSpirit: Have a safe and happy Labor Day!

 

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Categories: National Observances