DC Labor History Walking Tour
The Hidden History of DC Labor
By junior journalist Diego A. Esparza
Rachel Sier represented our tour sponsor, DC jobs with Justice. We gathered at, where else, Union Station.
Chris points out that the memorial for railroad workers killed on the job has more space available on the bottom. Our railways are not yet as safe as they need to be. Follow this link to my brief about improving railroad safety by protecting railroad whistleblowers.
Chris regales us with tales of A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
We then went to a memorial for A. Philip Randolph who joined the Socialist Party when he was 21. Later he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He led the March on Washington in 1963. He said, “At the table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take . . . and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can't take anything without organization.”
"At the banquet table of nature there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can't take anything, you can't get anything and if you can't hold anything, you won't keep anything. And you can't take anything without organizing."
The statue is missing the eyeglasses that Philip carried.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters.
Chris explained why the Upper Senate Park is a better place for a rally than the West Lawn of the Capitol.
"Freedom," the statue on top of the Capitol dome, is wearing a cap reflecting slave roots. Fitting, as it was built with slave labor.
Hoffa is one of my favorite movies.
The National Japanese American Memorial expresses our nation's apology for the unlawful internment of Japanese Americans. We recalled how the U.S. Supreme Court approved of the internment in Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). We hoped that the Supreme Court would not make another famously wrong decision again this year.
We then went to a monument for Japanese-American Internment. The memorial is often thought to be just an area with water and trees. This memorial is also a good place to see the Cherry Blossoms. We were shocked to read a quote by President Ronald W. Reagan that said: “Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”
The National Association of Letter Carriers has space for rent in its headquarters building.
The Washington, DC, headquarters of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (on the top floor).
The Frances Perkins Building (FPB), headquarters of the U.S. Department of Labor. We recalled how she was moved by witnessing the 1911 Triagle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers. She set conditions before she agreed to serve in FDR's cabinet as Secretary of Labor. She wanted his administration to enact Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, public works, and other reforms. FDR agreed, and succeeded on nine of her ten conditions. Only healthcare failed to become law.
After the Taft Memorial we went to the Francis Perkins Department of Labor Building. Perkins saw young women jumping to their death at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York and decided that there should be a department in the government that looks out for workers so things like that would not happen again. (The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire and since many of the elevators and doors were locked, very few could escape. People jumped to escape the fire and many of them died.)
The Canadian Embassy sits on the location where the Knight of Labor used to have offices.
At the Canadian Embassy the tour guide explained that he looked in old phone books from the 1860s to find out where the unions had their offices. The Knights of Labor was where the Canadian Embassy is now. The Knights of Labor was a union where everyone could join and everyone did start joining. People from bakers to carpenters to musicians wanted to join. It grew so fast that it could not keep up with its own growth. According to Kayla on the tour, her favorite part was the Canadian Embassy because of the architecture.
I recalled hearing how Britain announced that if it won the War of 1812, it would free all the slaves in the colonies.
Then we went to the Federal Trade Commission. Jonathan’s favorite part was the Federal Trade Commission because of the way the guide described the artwork inside about labor. In the front of the building there was a statue of a man holding a horse called “Man Controlling Trade,” the horse representing trade, to show that we should control trade and not over trade.
The building in the middle helps us remember what DC looked like decades ago.
One of four "Americans at Work" basreliefs on the FTC building.
Our next stop was the National Archives with the Roosevelt Memorial. Before Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, he said he would like his memorial to be no bigger than his desk, to be made of any type of stone, and to only say, “In Memory of…”
We also learned that before Joe Hill was executed in Utah, he said he did not want to be buried there. So, they cremated him and put his ashes in lots of envelopes to be sent to different IWW locals. But then, the US Post Office confiscated one of the envelopes because they said it looked dangerous. After they decided it was safe, they gave it to the National Archives, even though it was supposed to go an IWW office. One of the IWW’s complained, so they gave the ashes to the IWW and the Archives kept the historic envelope.
I admit. This quote is taken out of context. It is on the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters.
Old Post Office Pavillion.
This Post Office building is now the headquarters of EPA.
The color of the bricks informs protesters about which law enforcement agency might arrest them.
Next we went to the Ronald Reagan Building and although Reagan said he didn’t believe in big government, the building named for him is the second largest government building in the United States. The sidewalk is split into two parts, one with red bricks and the other with gray. The red bricks belong to the DC city government and the gray bricks belong to the federal government. So if you get a permit from one of the two to protest, you can’t go on the other one’s side.
Chris tells the story of the Bonus Army.
Once the site of Childs Restaurant, which was paid an unusual visit by one of Washington's wealthiest women, Evalyn Walsh McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond. Appalled by the condition of the Bonus Army (see markers for Bonus Expeditionary Force) in June 1932, Mrs McLean was walking among them when, as she reported in her autobiography 'Father Struck It Rich," she turned to the chief of police [Glassford, after whom the marchers named one of their encampments] after he announced he was going to get coffee for them and said "All right, I am going to Childs." As she retold it, "It was two o'clock (in the morning)...a man came up to take my order, "Do you serve sandwiches? I want a thousand," I said. "And a thousand packages of cigarettes...I want them right away. I haven't got a nickel with me, but you can trust me. I am Mrs. McLean." The sandwiches and cigarettes were delivered. After this McLean obtained a tent for the marchers to use as their headquarters and bought cots for the women and children to sleep on. She was most upset by the hunger among the marchers and went as far as calling Vice President Charles Curtis to demand that something be done. - Douglass E. Evelyn & Paul Dickson in "On This Spot; Pinpointing the Past in Washington, DC" (pp 70-71)
We stopped at the Willard Hotel, where we learned about the Bonus March. Chris told us how he and his father took two days to find the grave stones at the Arlington Cemetery for the two Bonus Marchers who were killed when the U.S. government attacked the veterans who were demanding the pay bonus that had been promised to them. One reason it took a while to find the graves was because their names were spelled differently on their gravestones than on the public records.
Site of the former headquarters of the CIO.
The last building was the AFL-CIO, which we wouldn’t have been able to get into, but then Darryl! Moch (Labor Heritage Foundation) showed up as we were peering in the windows and invited us in. In the building we saw two beautiful mosaics by Lumen Winter. We also saw an original painting by Ralph Fasanella.
The mural by Lumen Winter is called "Labor is Life."
Lumen Winter returned two decades later to make a matching mural for the 1972 expansion of the AFL-CIO headquarters.
Chris wrapped up the purpose of the tour by saying, “In history, what happened is not so important as to why it happened, and what we can learn from it.”
Thank you, Chris, for the tour and thank you, Diego for the article you have shared with us.
William Green was a labor leader from Coshocton, Ohio.
Although not part of the DC Labor Walking Tour, the Cutts-Madison House is now the home of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which last month issued a landmark decision in favor of Robert Whitmore, a whistleblower from the Department of Labor.
See also photos of Occupy DC, 2011-10-20.
Follow this link to Occupy DC's web page.