“Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living: the Autobiography of Mother Jones”
Mother Jones, the legendary labor organizer, died in 1930 at the age of a one hundred. But her words live on in the pages of her autobiography, and they live on the airwaves of Appalshop’s radio station WMMT beginning 88.7 beginning Monday, October 27.
Mary Harris Jones was born in Ireland in 1830. She and her husband were living in Memphis when he and their four children perished in a yellow fever epidemic in 1867. After a quarter-century of quiet widowhood, she embarked on a most unlikely path. She reinvented herself as “Mother Jones,” a colorful and very public advocate for the emerging movement to organize the working class. She devoted the rest of her long life to this cause. By the time of her death in 1930 she had become a nationally famous organizer, an advocate, a gadfly, and a tireless force rallying the dispossessed and taunting the powerful.
Beginning with the Haymarket Affair of 1894, she was in the thick of almost every major strike and organizing drive in the nation. She had a special affinity with coal miners, working in famous strikes in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Colorado. In her lifetime she was widely known, both loved and hated, a status she relished. As she began to slow down (around 1922) she dictated her memoirs, which were published in 1925 as The Autobiography of Mother Jones. The book recounts her adventures in stirring detail and conveys the energy, passion, and moral commitment that kept her going.
For decades following her death in 1930, Mother Jones was largely forgotten. But she was rediscovered in the1960’s and 1970’s. She became an icon of feminism, an inspiration to activist historians and organizers, and again a heroine of labor. Her saying “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” became a poster and a T-shirt. The women of the Pittston strike of 1989 named themselves “Daughters of Mother Jones,” and their other name, the “hounding pounding crew,” would have earned the old lady’s smile.
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