dangerous woman

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It’s the birthday of the woman Teddy Roosevelt once called “the most dangerous woman in America” when she was 87 years old. Mary Harris Jones, or “Mother Jones,” (books by this author) was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business — only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city’s bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country’s leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname “The Miner’s Angel.” She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator.” Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike “if there were no men present.” A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, “We want to go to school and not the mines!” At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners’ cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.
She said: “Whatever the fight, don’t be ladylike.”

self serving

LadyLibertyandJuly4th

Lady Liberty exists for all…or some?


It was on this day in 1863 that the New York City Draft Riots began, the bloodiest riot in American history. The rioters were working-class white men, mostly Irish-Americans. They were rioting against a new draft law put into place by President Lincoln, but they were angry about much more than that, and the draft law was just the final straw.

It was a terrible summer, hot and muggy, during the height of the Civil War. Rich New Yorkers were making money off the war, but poor people were even poorer than usual. There was huge inflation, and when people did manage to afford staple goods, they were often contaminated — sand mixed into sugar, or sawdust into coffee. Working-class immigrant New Yorkers had signed up in high numbers to serve in the Union Army, and many had died; those who did make it back alive were often wounded and could no longer provide for their families. Unemployment was high. Workers kept going on strike, but the strikes were broken. The sensational newspapers of the day published stories blaming all this misery on Lincoln, black people, and the recently issued Emancipation Proclamation. The newspapers warned working-class white people that black people would be moving up from the South in huge numbers and stealing their jobs. They published hateful pieces claiming that black men were breaking the strikes, and that they were staying home and seducing white women while white men fought.

Lincoln was desperate for more soldiers — men were dying at a faster rate than volunteers were enlisting. So he and Congress authorized the nation’s first draft law, and on Saturday, July 11th, the lottery began, with a blindfolded clerk pulling names out of a hat. Unfortunately there was a major exception to this fair process: for $300 you could buy your way out of the draft. It was a fee only the rich could afford — the average New York City worker earned 85 cents per day. On Saturday, a number of firemen from the Black Joke fire company were chosen in the lottery. The next day, the firemen sat around in a tavern talking angrily about the draft, and they decided to protest. On Monday morning, they showed up at the draft office with their fire truck full of rocks they had collected from construction sites. They threw the rocks through the office windows, burned the draft records, and attacked the officers who were administering it.

By the time they were finished, thousands had gathered around them. The original motives of the anti-draft protesters were quickly eclipsed by the angry mob. The mob fashioned makeshift weapons and went on a destructive rampage through the city. They pulled up railroad and streetcar tracks, knocked down telephone poles, cut telegraph lines, lit buildings on fire, and attacked people. They targeted Lincoln supporters, abolitionists, and policemen. They destroyed Protestant churches and charities, and they attacked the newspaper offices of The New York Times and The New York Tribune — the Times’ editor and owner Henry Raymond actually defended himself against the rioters with a Gatling gun. Most of all, the mob targeted African-Americans. They destroyed businesses and community spots that were owned by blacks or catered to them, and set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum. The mob attacked countless black people, set their homes on fire, and brutally murdered at least 11 black men. The violence continued to escalate, and there were not enough federal troops in the city to do much about it, since they were all off fighting in Pennsylvania — the Battle of Gettysburg had ended just 10 days before the riots began. On Wednesday, July 15th, troops were hurried from Gettysburg to New York City to fight. By Friday, there were about 6,000 federal troops, and the riot finally died down. The official death toll was listed as 119, but was probably higher. Many African-Americans left New York City because of the riots, leading to a 20 percent decrease in the African-American population in New York City during the Civil War.

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