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Erik Visits an American Grave (VI)

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This is the grave of John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1898-1908.

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Mitchell was born in 1870 and a founding member of the UMWA in 1890. That’s right, he was 20. He’d been working in the mines since 1876. Yes, at the age of 6 he was working. He rose rapidly in the new union, becoming close with Mother Jones. He became president in 1898, a position he would hold for a decade. His most important accomplishment was shepherding the union through its huge victory in the 1902 anthracite strike in Pennsylvania, when Theodore Roosevelt intervened to mediate the conflict instead of sending in the military to suppress it. The union grew from 34,000 terms to 340,000 during his term. The thing about Mitchell though, even though he was close with Jones, is that he also liked living the good life and he began running in some high-end circles, including with business leaders. This eroded the trust of the rank and file in his leadership. He was eventually forced out when the union told him he would have to give up his National Civic Federation membership where he hobnobbed with the wealthy. He refused and resigned. He died of tuberculosis in 1919.

When Buzzfeed runs its inevitable “25 Hottest American Labor Leaders,” Mitchell is going to show serious game.

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John Mitchell is buried in Cathedral Cemetery, Scranton, Pennsylvania

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  • dp

    Just going by memory, and I’ve been mightily distracted lately, but isn’t this the first grave of a “good guy” to make this series?

    • Hogan
      • dp

        That’s what going by memory will get you.

    • It could have been the other John Mitchell.

  • jeer9

    Thanks for recommending the Gorn biography of Mother Jones. An incredible life: the section on the early immigration of the Irish and the disease-ridden ships docked in the St. Lawrence; then she loses her four children in one year to yellow fever; and one hasn’t even reached the last thirty years devoted to union building.

    She’d make a good subject for a film (like Matewan), especially one focused on the events surrounding the Ludlow Massacre. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Streep playing her. Lots of opportunities for artistic contrast and comparison with our Second Gilded Age.

    Such a drama would certainly provide greater food for thought than Sicario, which is just one more version of the Cheney wet dream film in which authorities (the police, the military, the FBI, the CIA, you choose this week) engage in torture to make us safer and seemingly always manage to extract important information through this strategy (because physical pain is all “they” understand!), though even then the plot can’t maintain that low height, descending into pure cold-blooded revenge and Mafia-style extortion from the government’s rogue freelancer. Nerve-wracking but ultimately dumb.

    Black Mass isn’t much better, but at least the main characters are clearly monstrous and amoral and the FBI’s compromised integrity in their dealings with organized crime is depicted as the shameful, naive exercise it was. And to think I used to drive over the Neponset Bridge (Bulger’s Burial Ground) on a daily basis while those bodies were being hidden.

    Looking forward to Spotlight. McCarthy’s body of work so far (The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win) has been, if not spectacular, very impressive.

    • Bruce Vail

      Black Mass left me a little cold.

      I came away wishing the story had been more tightly focused on the wayward FBI agent. I’ve read that this is considered the worst agent scandal in FBI history.

      • hylen

        So far.

  • Bruce Vail

    Labor history lovers visiting Washington DC will enjoy a visit to the Dubliner, where a large litho celebrating Mitchell is framed and mounted in the wall near the bar. It appears to be contemporaneous to his fame as the most celebrated labor leader of his day.

    The Dubliner is quite near Union Station and is the focal point of DC’s modest, yet rowdy, St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

  • Bruce Vail
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