My father went to work in the Harlan County mines in 1938 at age fourteen and somehow enlisted in the U.S. Army a year later. He spent the better part of a decade in military service, married my mother before shipping off to earn a Purple Heart in the Battle of the Bulge and participate in the liberation of Europe from the Nazi menace. The enclosed photo was taken in France, probably in 1945. Back in the U.S., he went to work at a General Motors plant in Hamilton, Ohio, was elected President of his United Auto Workers/ “UAW” local, and soon was elevated to become an official of the three state UAW Region that included Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
The UAW and its President Walter Reuther worked closely with The McClellan Committed and its General Counsel Robert F. Kennedy in the efforts to weed out corruption the labor movement. It also supported Martin Luther King’s efforts to end segregation and the unfair treatment of African Americans and others in the United States.
Walter Reuther and the UAW spearhead organized labor support for Martin Luther King and for the 1963 Civil Rights March On Washington.
In the fall of 1963, I walked home from Fifth Grade at the local elementary school to find a big red “F U” painted on the front the white house that my parents rented on Wakefield Drive in the City of Hilliard. I overheard my parents discussing a high school teacher who had been talking of my father as a “dangerous communist” who had recently relocated the town. My father’s work in organizing Ohio participants in the 1963 March put him on the map of the Ohio right wing. Therein began a drumbeat against my father. This early conflict later grew to have great consequence in my life. It is indeed part of the past that is never dead and is not even past. It also taught me that doing the right thing is frequently punished, a lesson made even more clear in November 1963.
Shown above is a photograph taken on the day of the 1963 Civil Rights March with Martin Luther King at the far left, and President Kennedy and Walter Reuther smiling at each other on the right. Whenever I think life is hard I look at this to remember that two of the men in this photograph were rewarded for their hard work with a deadly bullet.