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May Day

By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on May 1, 2006 3:23PM

Haymarket.gifWe usually think of May Day as pretty girls dancing around maypoles, but much of the world celebrates May 1st as International Workers’ Day, commemorating the Haymarket Riot of 1886.

A new book, “Death in the Haymarket, A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded-Age America”, by James Green, (born and raised in Chicago), gives a familiar, but tragic, story new life. His narrative is easy to understand, interesting to read and it educates us again, to the importance of that day.

On May 4, 1886, a rally for striking workers was held at Haymarket Square. It started out peacefully enough, the Mayor even cutting out to go home early. When police moved in to break up the group, a bomb was thrown from the crowd, and exploded right near police, killing eight policemen. The police opened fire on the crowd and all told, eleven people died that day. The person who threw the bomb was never identified.

Eight people were arrested, and four of them put to death.

Green’s novel begins with a history of the working class and Albert Parsons' rise to radicalism. The second half of the book describes the trial and conviction of the eight men tried for the bombing. On Green’s website, he has a nice, solid excerpt from the book, and we’re reminded of the importance of the riot, not only on our city, but on the world. Green says, “No other event in American history has exerted such a hold on the imaginations of people in other lands, especially on the minds of working people in Europe and the Latin world, where the 'martyrs of Chicago' were annually recalled in the iconography of May Day.”

You can see James Green, Thursday, May 4, at 7 PM: Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 South Halsted Street, Chicago, IL
Friday, May 5, at 12 Noon: University Club, 76 East Monroe Street, Chicago, IL
Saturday, May 6, at 11 AM: Newberry Library, 60 Walton Street, Chicago, IL