In 1930, I was told by my father that the family needed money, and that I was now old enough, at fourteen, to get a job with him and my brother in a coalmine in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. It took an hour for us workers to descend 1800 feet to the inky, damp underground work areas. I went to work picking coal in the spaces too small for the adult men. In 1931, we had an explosion. I was ok, but others weren’t. I drew pictures to deal with my feelings about it. Not long after, we workers went on strike to get paid for the two hours a day we spent in the elevator. It was then that I met a “Wobbly”, who helped us figure out ways to respond to both the owners’ refusal to negotiate, and the scabs that entered the mine every day under police protection. The Wobbly told us kids to throw marbles under the horses on a signal. We did. Horses fell to the ground, police started shooting and murdered 14 workers that morning. My skull was fractured by a baton. A police officer visited me in the hospital to tell me I was under arrest for striking. I was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 2 years of probation. Not long after, I met Mother Bloor, a leader in the Communist party of the United states, Bill Foster, the leader of the steelworkers’ union, and John L. Lewis, who had come to our mine to help us form a union. I was a union man from that day, forward. And we got our union.
Soon after, I was 16 at the time, I heard that my hero, Diego Rivera, a Mexican Communist artist, was working on a mural in Detroit. Without hesitating, I hopped a train from Philadelphia to Detroit and managed to meet him. He and Frida liked my drawings. We saw eye-to-eye on politics and art, and they let me assist in that monumental radical workers’ mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I learned from a master. Art was his revolution, and it is mine.
I’ve worked as a union organizer and community activist throughout my life. I helped Dave Davis win the first “closed shop” union in Philadelphia, and worked with Mexican farm laborers to help strengthen their farm labor union in Colorado. I refused to give names and addresses of my communist comrades during the Red Scare in Denver , and I’ve assisted with the struggle for many civil rights issues; including the efforts to free Ben Chavis, the Wilmington 10, and Angela Davis. I’ve also worked within the Detroit community to build a state-of-the art elder living center for low-income seniors. At 95, I still have a fire in my heart that burns brightly for all causes related to human dignity.
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