Earlier this year, visitors to the opening of the labour display at Clark County Historical Museum got a taste of Michael’s unique blend of solid research and musical talent when he gave the introductory lecture on the museum’s unique labor history display. The project involved PNLHA members.
As a biographical note says, through his work on civil rights and liberties, Michael “links scholarship, music, and public speaking with community and labor organizing.” He is noted for his “extensive use of oral history, deep archival research, and vibrant writing style,” the biography adds.
His recent book Sharecropper’s Troubadour (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) is an excellent example of that combination of skills. It’s about John L. Handcox, an organizer of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union and composer of tunes such as “Roll the Union On.” In the tradition of African American song, Handcox used his music to bridge “racial divides and kept the spirits of striking workers high.”
Commenting on Sharecropper’s Troubadour, historian David Roediger said, “Honey’s and Handcox’s voices mix in a unique combination of oral history and scholarly research that reminds us of the centrality of music, and of poetry, to US freedom movements.”
Michael has taught at University of Washington, Tacoma, since 1990. He has previously served as the Harry Bridges Chair of Labor Studies for the University of Washington and as President of the Labor and Working-Class History Association.
His previous books include the award-winning Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007) and Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Unionism, Segregation and the Freedom Struggle (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1999), and his first book, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993).
Here’s Michael singing “Join the Union Tonight”.