Sadly I’m afraid, our dear Mother is not well known in central Illinois. A brief history of Mary Harris Jones includes her work as the protector and supporter of front-line folks organizing labor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our local connection comes from the horrendous battle in Virden between coal miners and mine guards when the owner/operators of the mine attempted to break a strike by bringing in replacement workers. Several people on both sides died during the ensuing gunfight on Oct. 12, 1898. Which should be a vivid reminder that humans actually died for simple things like decent pay and fair treatment just over 100 years ago here in central Illinois. The good Christian folk in the area were so upset by the melee they refused to allow burial of the killed mine workers in their cemeteries so the union bought land in Mount Olive and created a final resting place. When Mother Jones died at the ripe old age of 100 in 1930 she requested interment with “her boys” in the only union-owned graveyard in America.
Twenty-five years ago a couple of card-carrying Communist professors at Sangamon State University and other well-rounded community individuals began the Mother Jones dinner to honor her work and to create an awareness of current labor issues. Along with the fine food and a keynote speaker from the workers front, famed folk singers from the labor movement performed during the event. The late and the great Utah Phillips played several times, as did Anne Feeney whom Utah called “the greatest labor singer in North America.” Other esteemed and knowledgeable singing activists performed, including Wisconsin-born, Chicago-based, Bucky Halker.
This year’s dinner is a tribute to Anne, who discovered a cancerous tumor in her chest in August and then quickly went in debt to the medical world – ironically perhaps, since she spent most of her life singing about bringing health care to folks who need it and can’t afford it, as well as other pertinent social issues involved in making this world a more decent and better place. She’s recovering from intense cancer treatments and asks that anyone caring to drop a note or donation to contact her at: Anne Feeney, 2240 Milligan Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15218. Check out her website for news and plenty of feisty and meaningful observations about the screwed up health care system now in place in the United States. That’s Anne for you though, she’s laid up with a life-threatening illness and uses it to inform others (very loudly) of the injustices involved in everyday living in our society. Remember, this woman composed the rousing revolutionary song, “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” because she has and believes you should too.
Bucky Halker deserves a book instead of the paragraph I’m going to write about his work as a collector of folklore, a singer-songwriter and as a preserver and performer of Midwest folk songs, both in recorded and live performances. Suffice it to say he’s a world-class artiste and high-class human dedicating this show to his friend and compatriot Anne Feeney. The dinner is open to the public but organizers would appreciate a call first. Accomplish that by reaching Jack Dyer at 217-691-4185 or Terry Reed at 217-789-6495.
Contact Tom Irwin at email@example.com.