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Make Pullman a National Park

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There’s an effort to turn the site of the 1894 Pullman Strike into a national park site. You should support this.

I have not yet discussed the Pullman Strike in a This Day in Labor History post, but in short, the Panic of 1893 cut into profits of the Pullman company, with its headquarters and model town on the far south side of Chicago. The response of George Pullman was to slash wages while not cutting rents on company housing. Workers walked out under the leadership of Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union. This strike quickly spread across the country, as 19th century railroad strikes were wont to do. Grover Cleveland then sent in the military to crush the strike. This event turned Debs into a socialist and one of America’s leading voices for social and economic justice in the early 20th century.

Pullman should clearly be a national park. For one thing, we do not have a national park marking any of the United States’ titanic labor struggles. Second, the Pullman site is unique but crumbling. I went out there about a year ago. While most of the Pullman buildings are gone, a couple of the most important remain standing, including the front building to the plant. They do need some significant work. There is a wire fence around it all and a few signs tacked onto the fence to provide some rudimentary interpretation.

The housing around the plant mostly still stands as well and is occupied by tenants. The old housing also makes for a pretty cool neighborhood worth visiting in its own right. There is a small museum, but it was closed when I was there on a Friday afternoon and I don’t think is open very often. While I imagine there would be some trickiness between managing the existing company housing and the residents of it, this would not be the only park to have that problem. For example, the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta manages this issue with deftness in my experience, charging pretty low rents for decent quality housing as it manages the neighborhood around King’s home.

The park would also provide significant economic benefits for the local community, which would be a real positive in South Side Chicago.

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