Both a strong Socialist and union organizer, Adolf Germer (1881-1966) was a German immigrant who came to Illinois as a child. At age 11, he was working in a coal mine in Stauton, Illinois. He became active in the United Mine Workers (UMW) and held office in Illinois District 12. From 1910 through the 1930s, the Illinois Mine Workers continually challenged the national union leadership, which they considered un-democratic. In 1914 Germer was organizing Colorado miners in the UMWA. Colorado had the nation’s highest mining fatality rate and as workers joined the union, they faced brutal repression, culminating in the April 20th Ludlow Massacre, when the miners’ tent colony was machine-gunned and burned.
A strong Socialist, in 1916 he was Secretary of the U.S. Socialist Party. He was staunchly anti-war and in 1919 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his dissent. He was freed on bail and was later acquitted. In 1919, he led the “loyalist faction” of the Socialist Party that expelled the groups that coalesced into the U.S. Communist Party. The U.S. Socialist Party never fully recovered from this split. He then worked as a party organizer in New York and Massachusetts. In 1923 he left the Socialists, working in the California oil fields, helping organize those workers. In 1930, he returned to Illinois and became a coal miner in Mt. Olive, he was again elected a UMW officer. An Illinois based faction, including Germer, challenged UMW President John L. Lewis’s leadership. When the Mt. Olive mine closed, from 1931-33 he edited the Rockford Labor News. Despite their political differences, Lewis knew Germer was a skilled organizer and in November 1935, John L. Lewis hired Germer as the first field representative of the CIO. He roamed the Midwest during the early and fast developing organization of CIO unions. When Toledo rubber workers staged the first sit-down strike he was there, and again, in December 1936, with the fledgling United Auto Workers when they sat down in Flint, Michigan. “Germer labored around the clock in Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and other auto production centers to spread industrial unionism among auto workers and to encourage hitherto independent unions in the industry to merge into a large, all-inclusive international union.” 1
Germer remained with the CIO until the 1955 merger with the AFL. He died in Rockford in 1966.
1 Dubofsky, Melvyn and Van Tine, Warren, John L. Lewis: A biography, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1986, page 172.
American socialist Mary Marcy was born on May 8, during the year of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Raised in Belleville, Illinois, Mary and her siblings were orphaned. As a teenager, she worked as a switchboard operator and stenographer to support herself and her siblings. Mary married socialist Leslie Marcy and together they moved to Kansas City, Missouri. She joined the Socialist Party and soon found work as a secretary to meatpacking executives at Swift and then Armour. Her 1904 investigative series, “Letters of a Pork-Packing Stenographer,” published in the International Socialist Review, revealed the inner workings of the “Big Five” trust. Marcy described how the packinghouse bosses manipulated markets; set rates and prices, and created an industrial monopoly. She also exposed low wages and dangerous working conditions in the industry. Months later, she provided testimony and secret correspondence of executives to a Grand Jury investigation. The case made a big splash in the press, though packers would win immunity from prosecution a year later. Mary lost her job and hired on with the Associated Charities of Kansas City. There she became critical of philanthropic forces that lectured the poor on morals rather than provide concrete aid. She serialized her experiences in the fictional account, Out of the Dump.
Returning to Chicago, Mary worked as managing editor to the International Socialist Review. Her wildly popular book, Shop Talks on Economics, served as a primer on socialism. It was translated into several languages, including Japanese, Greek and Finnish. It sold more than two million copies. As well, she penned pamphlets, short stories and poems with themes that centered on working life and the need for a socialist society. Her comrade and eulogist, Jack Carney notes, “Whether it was the lumberjack in the bunkhouse, the miner out in the wilds of Australia, the railroader, the longshoreman, sailor or man counting the ties, the boy in the penitentiary, they all knew Mary through her letters.”When many socialists joined the pro-war fervor in 1914, Mary took a hard stand against it. She published a series of articles in the International Socialist Review that would re-appear in the form of an 80-page pamphlet titled, You Have No Country!
“Your” country has protection only for the powerful, the rich, the idle; she has no care for those who are hungry, cold, and sick. The flag of “your” nation is borne by the troops sent into districts where the hosts of poverty congregate, to drive them from the sight of the wealthy.
“Your” country has no place for you after you have built the railroads, harvested the crops, produced the food and clothing for more than your own numbers. For when your work is done your pay ceases. All that you have made, all that you have produced, has been kept by your employers and you are turned out upon the mercies of “your” country in your old age, penniless and homeless, to starve.
You have no country! Every national flag in the world today means protection for the employing class, who appropriate the things produced by the workers. It has no message for those who toil. There is only one flag worth fighting for and that is the red flag, which means universal brotherhood of the workers of the world in their fight to abolish the profit system."
Mary threw her lot in with the IWW in 1918, though the split in the Socialist movement soon after affected her deeply. Her home was ransacked by the Department of Justice during the Red Scare. Jack Carney noted that the sight of hundreds of fellow workers, many of them her own personal friends going to jail played havoc with her. She and her husband lost their home after mortgaging it to provide bail for numerous Wobblies, including Bill Haywood, then swept up in Red Scare conspiracy trials. The period proved too much for her and in 1922 she took her own life. When Eugene V. Debs learned of her death, he wrote, “she was one of the clearest minds and greatest souls in all our movement, and her passing into the great silence will be such a loss as will leave an aching void to those who knew her.”
Illinois 8th Regiment
The Eighth Regiment and the Fight for Democracy at Home and Abroad
When W.E.B DuBois called on African-Americans in 1918 “to forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder without our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy,” he reflected the thoughts of thousands of black men who joined the U.S. military. Although most “fellow white citizens” did not forget their racism and sought to replicate Jim Crow in the armed forces, African-American men stepped forward to take a role for their country in which full democracy was still a promise.
Since 1894, Chicago’s black community had supported a military unit which had fought for the U.S. in Cuba and Mexico already and which had been reorganized as the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard. As the U.S. entered the European war, the regiment became the 370th Infantry of the 93rd division of U.S. Army in 1917, led by an African-American colonel Frank Denison and composed entirely of African American soldiers from Chicago, Springfield, Peoria, and Bloomington.
American racism reared its ugly head as the 370th Infantry and the four other black infantries were subjected to Jim Crow: while mostly assigned service and grunt jobs, the soldiers who did fight were placed under French command as white military leaders refused to believe that blacks had the courage and tenacity for battle. The highest-ranking colonels were not allowed to serve. The U.S. army also sent to the French military a “Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops” communique that stated that blacks were cowardly and lazy, the officers could not lead their men, and it also warned that the French--especially women—should keep their distance from the black soldiers. The French ignored it and embraced in the African-
American soldiers. The 370th battled under French command from March to November 1918, playing decisive roles in the battles of St. Mihiel, the Argonne Forest, and the Oise-Aisne and Lorraine offensives in which the Germans were pushed back. The French treated the men of the 370th as heroes, and awarded 68 Croix de Guerre medals. Eventually, the U.S. Army recognized 22 soldiers of the regiment for “distinguished service.”
When the soldiers returned to Chicago in February 1919, they were greeted by tens of thousands of Chicagoans, feted at the Chicago Coliseum by overflow crowds, and cheered during a triumphant march up Michigan avenue. Amidst the triumphant return, the Chicago Defender editorialized, “If you have been fighting for democracy, let it be a real democracy, a democracy in which the blacks can have equal hope, equal opportunities, and equal rewards with the whites. Any other sort of democracy spells failure.” Months later, these same men helped defend the African American community from white violence during the July riot. Twenty years later—during World War II--African Americans were again fighting to secure democracy for all citizens at home as well as across the world.
In 1927 the Victory Monument was dedicated at 35th and King Drive to honor the bravery, sacrifice, and patriotism of the 370th, fondly known as “the Old Eighth.” Paid for by the state of Illinois, it was the first monument in the U.S. to honor black soldiers and it stands proudly today at the same corner. So, too, the regiment’s armory still exists at 35th and Giles Avenue—just a few blocks from the monument. It is now the CPS Chicago Military Academy of Bronzeville. We can honor service and sacrifice of the 370th by visiting these sites—and working to keep our democracy alive every day.
Born in 1918 and raised in The Bronx by Russian immigrant parents, Beatrice Lumpkin launched her life’s mission as a union and political activist at an early age. Her first factory job was in 1933, the summer she was 14. Bea lied about her age to get the fifteen-cent-an-hour job assembling radio tubes. Not long afterwards, Bea authored her first workplace flyer, “Are you satisfied?” She became a member of the Metal Workers Industrial Union, soon to become a part of the newly burgeoning Congress of Industrial Organizations… the CIO. As a Hunter College student Bea became an member and organizer for the Laundry Workers union, following the path laid down by her parents who had owned a small laundry during her childhood.
The ‘30’s were tumultuous; workers faced unemployment on a massive scale. Both the Socialists and Communists were active in organizing the unemployed, leading hunger marches, and recruiting workers into the militant industrial unions. Bea jumped right in. In analyzing this period, Lumpkin describes President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “He was a great President but only because he responded to the pressure of the organized masses. Nobody gave us the social safety net.”
In 1939 Lumpkin, a recent college graduate, found herself a member of the United Electrical Workers, working as a radio technician. In the early years of the war, she and her first husband had two children. During a period in Buffalo, New York Lumpkin met Frank Lumpkin, an African American man who soon became her second husband and the father of her younger children. They moved together to Chicago where they were confronted by tremendous hostility as a mixed race couple. During the War years and their aftermath, much of her work focused on rent strikes and tenant organizing. At one point the family was evicted and, in court the landlord told the judge that he Lumpkins were Communists and he upheld the family’s eviction.
In 1950 Frank got a job at the far south side Wisconsin Steel Mill; the family settled in Gary, Indiana and Bea worked as a copy writer for the Gary Post- Tribune. She later worked at National Tube where she became a member of the United Steelworkers. She returned to school to study electronics but that career was brought to an abrupt halt by the company president who fired her saying, “For what I’m paying you… I can get a man.” Lumpkin has been a fighter for women’s rights throughout her life and, in 1974, was a founding member of CLUW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
Bea began her teaching career after that. She taught at Chicago Public Schools and then became a math instructor at Malcolm X Community College. Later she returned to CPS, finally retiring at age 72. During the 1950’s and ‘60s, she was a participant in the civil rights movement including marching with MLK in Marquette Park and she actively assisted the Black Panthers in their community work on the west side of Chicago. She was also active in the fight against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Lumpkin continues her activism on a daily basis. Current projects include the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, an organization whose mission is, “to mobilize retired union members and other senior and community activists into a nationwide grassroots movement advocating a progressive political and social agenda.” A part of their work that Lumpkin particularly enjoys is the building of intergenerational dialogue and projects, working with such groups as the Chicago Young Workers, SEIU Future Fighters and others.
Lumpkin said that she is particularly honored to be an ILHS Union Hall of Honor Inductee. When asked why, she replied, “If you don’t study labor history, you really haven’t studied history at all. Studying history will help us understand the present and the future we can create by working together.”