Mother Jones: her background, life and legacy

Mother Jones………her background, her life and her legacy.

Firkin Crane Theatre, Shandon.

Wednesday 31st July 2019 at 7pm.

Mary “Mother” Jones

On Wednesday 31st July, Elliott J Gorn, US historian and author and Joe Creedon, historian from Inchigeelagh, will discuss the background, life and times of Mother Jones and what is known of her mother’s life in Inchigeelagh. This will represent the most comprehensive account of Mary Harris/Mother Jones yet seen in Cork.

In her autobiography published in 1925, Mother Jones writes just a few lines on her Cork roots.

“I was born in the City of Cork, Ireland in 1830. My people were poor. For generations they had fought for Ireland’s freedom. Many of my folks died in that struggle. My father Richard Harris came to America in 1835 and as soon as he became an American citizen he sent for his family.”

Elliott J. Gorn

Mother Jones was 88 years old when this autobiography was published. Her dates above are incorrect in that she was actually born around 31st July 1837 (baptised by Fr John O’Mahony on 1st August 1837 at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne). Also her father and brother left for Canada in 1847, not 1835.

However her failure in this autobiography to mention her mother Ellen Cotter is strange but then she spends just a few pages on her early life as Mary Harris, the remaining 200 pages concentrate on Mother Jones.

On February 9th 1834, Richard Harris and Ellen Cotter were married in the old church in Inchigeelagh, this was then located in the centre of Inchigeelagh Village towards the rear of the present day Creedons Hotel. The village was quite small at the time comprising about a dozen buildings in all.

Their first son Richard was born in 1835 and was baptised also in Inchigeelagh, however the family had moved to live in Cork City as Mary and her later siblings Catherine 1840, Ellen in 1845 and William in 1846 were all baptised in the Cathedral.

Rural Ireland was then a place of agrarian conflict and poverty in the early 1800s as the growing population was very dependent on tiny holdings and the potato as a food source. Throughout Munster, the Whiteboys led by Captain Rock were in constant conflict with the authorities and outrages, reprisals and retaliation were common.

In 1822, the Battle of Keimaneigh took place near Inchigeelagh and involved hundreds of Whiteboys. The subsequent fall out from this would have reverberated around the local rural area as State repression forced people into insurrection. Thousands crowded into the towns and cities adding to the widespread destitution.

Once the potato blight was found in potatoes in rural Cork in the summer of 1845, it signalled the beginning of the Great Famine, which devastated Ireland and impacted on millions of Irish lives and left a mark on the emotional psyche of the Irish people ever since. The Harris family were just one of hundreds of thousands of families who fled Ireland seeking a better life.

Young Mary Harris left Cork, and her subsequent story and how she overcame personal tragedy has become an inspiration to millions of immigrants. Yet she found the will and determination to fight the economic and political injustice which she had first experienced in Ireland and later in the USA.

Joe Creedon

Joe Creedon lives in Inchigeelagh in Uibh Laoire. He is deeply immersed in the history, heritage and folk memory of this beautiful part of Muskerry. His vivid accounts of the people of his village are told with a vibrancy and passion. Listening to Joe takes one directly to the ancient world of his ancestors and the countryside of his native place. His story becomes a living portrait of the era described. Joe will tell of Ellen Cotter and early 19th Century Inchigeelagh.

Elliott Gorn attended the very first Mother Jones Festival in Shandon in 2012 and described the life and impact of Mother Jones. Elliott made the original discovery in relation to the baptism of Mary Harris at the North Cathedral in 1837, which was published in his classic account of Mother Jones (Mother Jones – The Most Dangerous Woman in America, published 2001, Hill and Wang). This book remains a very comprehensive account of the life of Mary Harris and the union/labour activities of Mother Jones.

In his conclusion Elliott stated,

“She was expected to go silently through life, for she was a mere worker in a country that worshipped success, an immigrant in a nativist land, a woman in a male-dominated society, and an elderly person in a nation that cherished youth. Hers was a voice that American’s were not supposed to hear. That was her final legacy – out of nothing but courage, passion, and commitment, she created a unique voice, a prophetic voice, and raised it in the cause of renewing America’s democratic promise.”

Elliot Gorn’s book on Mother Jones

Elliott has just completed The Story of Emmett Till – Let the People See, published by Oxford University Press. He will speak about Emmett Till on Saturday 3rd August next at 3pm at the Firkin Crane Theatre.

The Story of Emmett Till: Let the People See

Professor Elliott J. Gorn will tell the story of Emmett Till at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Saturday afternoon 3rd August at 3pm.

Let the People See.

Emmett Till

14 year old Emmett Till from Chicago visited some of his family in Mississippi in August 1955.

He allegedly whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant who was working behind the counter of a country store in Money, Mississippi on 24th August. Emmett was kidnapped by Mrs Bryant’s husband Roy  and half brother J.W. “Big” Milam a few days later. They beat him and then shot him.

Emmett’s tortured body was found in the Taallahatchie River on Wednesday August 31st, with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire.

 

 

Instead of quietly burying the remains, Emmett’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley decided to have an open casket at the funeral in Chicago.

 

She proclaimed         “Let the people see what they did to my boy.”  

The mutilated face of Emmett Till

A hundred thousand people did see his face as they filed past the casket and millions saw the photos in the African-American press.

The burial aroused a storm of wider media interest and the story was featured extensively all over America. Yet just a month later the all-white jury found the killers of Emmett Till not guilty of murder in spite of strong evidence presented.

 

 

Prof. Elliott Gorn’s book

African Americans were shocked and horrified while many white Americans were forced to question the systematic racism which infected American society. The lynching of Emmett Till became a defining moment for many African Americans from Muhammad Ali to Rosa Parks. On 1st December 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus in Montgomery. A few days earlier she had attended a meeting where the Emmett Till case was discussed.

The Till murder sparked a generation to create the greatest mass mobilisation of the twentieth- century in the American civil rights movement.

The lynching of young Emmet Till forces everyone to look hard at the realities of racism today as racially motivated violence continues despite the haunting image of young Till and the determination of his brave mother Mamie to let the people see!

Elliott J. Gorn

Author Elliott J. Gorn will talk of the short life and death of Emmett Till at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Saturday 3rd August at 3pm.

Elliott’s book,  The Story of Emmett Till……Let the People See is published by Oxford University Press 2018. He is also the author of Mother Jones – The Most Dangerous Woman in America and will speak about Mother Jones on Wednesday evening at 8pm at the Firkin Crane Theatre. All welcome.

Our guest speakers – Professor Elliott J. Gorn

Elliot J. Gorn

Professor Elliott J. Gorn – will speak at Cork event about the life and legacy of Mother Jones

As we come nearer to the date for the Cork Mother Jones Festival we would like to take an opportunity to introduce you to some of our guest contributors, starting with Professor Elliot J. Gorn.

Elliott Gorn is Professor of American Civilisation and History at Brown University. He specializes in the social and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and 20th century.

His books include Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America, Dillinger’s Wild Ride, Muhammad Ali, the People’s Champ and a Brief History of American Sports.

Mother Jones, the most dangerous woman in America (book)

Elliot Gorn’s book, “Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America”

He has contributed to numerous articles and publications and has received several awards and research fellowships for his work.

Elliott has very kindly agreed to come along to the very first Mother Jones festival in Shandon and will speak at the Firkin Crane at 3pm on Wednesday 1st August 2012, along with Marat Moore. Elliott’s biography of Mother Jones, identifies her Cork connections, details the actual contributions of Mother Jones to the labour movement in all their complexity. This classic book gives a comprehensive account of the very complex, fascinating and authentic human being, that was Mother Jones.

He concludes about Mother Jones:-

“A common woman whose early years yielded toil and tragedy and whose old age promised nothing but obscurity. She was expected to go silently through life, for she was a mere worker in a country that worshipped success, an immigrant in a nativist land, a woman in a male dominated society and an elderly person in a nation that cherished youth. Hers was the voice that Americans were not supposed to hear. That was her final legacy- out of nothing, but courage, passion, and commitment; she created a unique voice, a prophetic voice, and raised it in the cause of renewing America’s democratic promise.”