Downstate Memorial Honoring Labor Leader Getting An Upgrade
By Jeff Bossert
A labor group hopes that efforts to upgrade a nearly 80-year old monument in downstate Illinois will also bring a history lesson to new generations.
A memorial to Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones, has stood in Union Miner Cemetery in the Macoupin County town of Mt. Olive since the 1930’s. And preservationists say it needs an upgrade.
Jones was a teacher turned organizer who protested child labor in Pennsylvania.
She also fought for the rights of striking coal miners, including those who fought in the 1898 Battle of Virden, a violent clash with strikebreakers that left 13 dead. Mother Jones Magazine takes its name from the famed labor leader who died in 1930.
Amy Rueff with Illinois’ AFL-CIO said she was buried in Mt. Olive, just 40 miles from Virden.
"“She requested that she be sent back to be laid besides those brave boys who gave their lives in Virden," said Rueff, who's leading the orgnanization's fundraiser. "Her role was really to talk to people stand up for themselves, she organized the men’s wives, she organized children and they respected her, and listened to what she said when it came to activism.”
State Senator and former Macoupin County Board Chair Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) grew up in the area.
“Any number of visitors - international visitors - that stop at the cemetery, at the monument, on any given day in Mt. Olive," he said. "And local leaders would tell you that there’s an incredible draw to her, as an individual, and for what she stood for.”
The Senator, the Illinois AFL-CIO, and United Mine Workers want to raise more than $100-thousand for preservation efforts, including the cleaning of statues and plaques at the site.
There’s also a plan to build a Mother Jones Museum in Mt. Olive.
A portion of that funding will be announced Tuesday, when plans are also unveiled to raise money for a Mother Jones museum in Mt. Olive. The goal is to have both completed by June 2015.