It is with great sadness that we announce the death of John Jefferies, a founding member of the Cork Mother Jones Committee. John passed away at his residence in Cobh on February 10th 2020.
John was a member of our committee since 2011 and managed the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival website and Facebook pages. His knowledge of history, heritage, politics and people was quite extraordinary and his meticulous research and understanding of public and community history was unsurpassed.
Like Mother Jones, from whom he took much inspiration, John spoke for the underdogs in society and supported social justice and human rights issues.
At the 2015 festival he highlighted the important role of Cobh born, union organiser, Jack Dowling. In 2017 he published his book Death on the Pier …the Cobh Pier Head Shooting and the Story of the Moon Car.
John’s contribution to the work of this committee laid the foundations for many festivals. He focused on the history and story of ordinary working people and the trade union movement.
On behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee we wish to express our sympathy to his family and friends.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the passing of Pete Seeger, legendary singer / songwriter and activist on so many causes. Pete passed away in hospital in his native New York on Monday morning aged 94 years.
Born in 1919 while Mother Jones was busy fighting to unionise steel workers in Pennsylvania, one can easily see the influence she and others such as Joe Hill had on Pete Seeger. His radical but deeply religious parents were also seminal influences on Seeger. From an early age his life was steeped in music and activism.
The life and career of Pete Seeger has been chronicled elsewhere. His death made worldwide news with praise heaped on him from all quarters, including those of whom he was deeply critical.
From the Almanac Singers to the Weavers and a lengthy career, Seeger went through almost every genre of music but folk was his mainstay. He was never afraid to take on the powerful, whether it was facing up to police dogs in Alabama in the struggle for civil rights or the cynical witch-hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Unamerican Activities Commission”. Still active until a short time before his death, Seeger’s name and legacy will go on.
For more on Pete’s long life and career read this tribute from Rolling Stone magazine:
The Cork Mother Jones Committee is delighted to announce that Si Kahn, singer, songwriter, writer, community organiser, union activist and environmental campaigner is coming to Cork for the 2014 Spirit of Mother Festival.
Si has been an active supporter of the Spirit of Mother Jones festival in Cork since it began in 2012 and will perform his sole Irish concert at this year’s event.
The concert will take place at the Firkin Crane centre on Thursday 31st July at 8.30.
Si was born in 1944 and was greatly influenced by the Civil Rights movement. He began his organising career in 1965 in Arkansas with the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the student wing of the Civil Rights movement.
During the 1970’s, he worked with the United Mineworkers of America in the Brookside Strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, and was an area director of the J.P. Stevens campaign for the ACTWU in Roanoke Rapids in North Carolina. These historic labour struggles are portrayed in the movies Harlan County USA and Norma Rae.
In the early 70’s he spent a few days in Aragon, Georgia where a textile mill had closed down putting about 700 people out of work. He wrote the folk classic Aragon Mill which is a haunting song of quiet despair after the closure of the local mill.
“And the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town,
Weave and spin, weave and spin”
“There’s no children at all
In the narrow empty streets
Now the looms have all gone
It’s so quiet I can’t sleep”
Aragon Mill was included in “New Wood”, Si’s first album. It has been recorded by Planxty, Hazel Dickens, Hans Theessink and many others. The Furey Brothers recorded it as Belfast Mill and there is a version called Douglas Mill.
Si’s songs have been recorded by many of artists including Dolores Keane, Eleanor Shanley, Dick Gaughan, June Tabor, Peggy Seeger, the Dublin City Ramblers and Kathy Mattea.
Si has toured all over Europe, Canada and North America. He has released 14 albums of original songs, a CD of original songs for children, “Good Times and Bedtimes”: a collection of traditional labour, civil rights and women’s songs recorded with Pete Seeger and Jane Sapp.
In 1980, Si founded Grassroots Leadership, a Southern-based national progressive organisation, and he served as its Executive Director for 30 years, retiring on May Day 2010. For the past 13 years, Grassroots Leadership has worked to oppose privatisation and to defend the public sector.
He is currently very involved with a campaign to stop what would be the world’s largest open pit mine in Alaska and by doing so to save Bristol Bay, one of the greatest remaining wild fisheries in the world. He released an album in 2013 entitled “Bristol Bay” and is active with Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay. He is also campaigning against mountaintop removal in West Virginia.
Si is also an accomplished author. In 2010 he wrote “Creative Community Organising: A guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists and Quiet Lovers of Justice (Berrett-Koehler 2010).
An earlier book in 2006 “The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatisation Threatens Democracy” was co-authored with feminist philosopher Elizabeth Minnich, his long term partner and spouse. Two earlier widely used organizing handbooks, “How People Get Power” and “Organising: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders”, have sold over 80,000 copies.
“Si Kahn is one of the best….a solid thinker who is able to humanize the political……Ihope he lives to be 120”
longstanding friend and fellow songwriter’s Pete Seeger’s view of Si.
“I put Si in the same category as Woody Guthrie, as Pete Seeger and in a strange way my Dad, who shared his righteous sense of humanity and his love of the meek who he truly believed would inherit the earth.”
Si has recently completed a musical about Mother Jones, “Mother Jones in Heaven” and hopes to perform it some day in Cork. With his permission some of the songs from this musical were originally performed at the inaugural Mother Jones Festival in 2012 by Jim Williamson. The dream of the Cork Mother Jones Committee is to see the full musical, “Mother Jones in Heaven” performed in Cork, the birthplace of Mary Harris.
We are indeed very honoured to welcome Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich to Cork for the 2014 festival.