History of the Song “John Brown’s Body”, the tune for US labor anthem, “Solidarity Forever”

This submission to PNLHA was suggested by Dr. Mark Gregory
Honorary Post-Doctoral Research Associate
School of Humanities and Social Inquiry
University of Wollongong Australia

Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December, 1861 p. 3.

JOHN BROWN OF HARPER’S FERRY.-The following is from the New York Independent, August 29 :—

Who would have dreamed, a year and a half since, that a thousand men in the streets of New York would be heard singing reverently and enthusiastically in praise of John Brown ! Such a scene was witnessed on Saturday evening last. One of the new regiments from Massachusetts, on its way though this city to the seat of war, sang—

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering In the grave,
His soul’s marching on !
Glory Hallelujah ! Glory Hallelujah ! Glory Hallelujah !

The stanzas which follow are in the same wild strain—

He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, &c,
His soul’s marching on !
John Brown’s knapsack is strapped upon his back, &c,
His soul’s marching on !
His pet lambs will meet him on the way, &c.
They go marching on !

Seldom, if ever, has New York witnessed such a sight or heard such strains. No military hero of the present war has been thus honoured. No statesman has thus loosed the tongues of a thousand men to chant his patriotism. Little did Captain Brown think of the national struggles that were to follow his eventful death. But his calmness and firmness gave evidence of his faith that the cause of freedom demanded the sacrifice of his life, and he nobly died. It was a notable fact that while the regiment united as with one voice singing this song, thousands of private citizens, young and old, on the sidewalks and in crowded doorways and windows, joined in the chorus. The music was in itself impressive, and many an eye was wet with tears. Few who witnessed the triumphal tread of that noble band, arrayed for the war for freedom, will ever forget the thrilling tones of that song.

PNLHA, WSLC, LERC, and LAW Make Joint Educational Presentations at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater for musical “The Pajama Game”

In March of 2017, PNLHA, the Washington State Labor Council, the Labor Education and Research Center, and the Labor Archives of Washington made a series of joint educational presentations at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater for musical “The Pajama Game” exploring the legacy and promise of the labor movement in Washington through a tour of the past and present roles unions play in vastly improving the lives of working people, their families, and their communities. The presentations highlighted what unions have done and continue to do to resist oppression and amplify the voices of working people, tying them into the universal themes in the Pajama Game and current fights for social, racial and economic justice in our region.

See the slideshow from the heavily-attended sessions here!

Registration Now Open for the May 26 – 28, 2017 Conference

Echoes of the 1917 Russian Revolution: Decades of Radicalism and Red Scares in the Labour Movements of the Pacific Northwest
May 26 – 28

Early Bird Registration Now Open

Presented in collaboration with the BC Labour Heritage Centre

The PNLHA and BC LHC welcome trade unionists, students, academics and others interested in labour history and worker’s heritage to this conference.


The Nest – 6133 University Blvd Vancouver, BC Canada (University of British Columbia campus)

2017 Conference Program (PDF color)
2017 Conference Program (PDF b/w)

Registration Details:
Register online with PayPal or
download instructions for registration by mail with check.

Hotel Accommodations:
Registrants are responsible for booking your own accommodation. A limited block of rooms has been secured at the Ponderosa Suites – 2017 W. Mall. This is a new student residence 5 minutes walk from the conference site. (Shuttle for those requiring).

There are 2 options, both offer daily housekeeping:

A) Ponderosa Studio Suite: double bed, full kitchen, private bath @ $120.00 per room/night + 13% taxes; or

B) Ponderosa Premium Single: a single bed within a 4-bedroom unit with 2 full bathrooms, kitchen, dining and sitting area @ $56.00 per person/night + 13% taxes

Make reservations by APRIL 25th directly with UBC Accommodations. Indicate you are with the “PNLHA Labour History Conference” for the reduced rate.

Tel (604) 822-1000 | Toll Free 1-888-822-1030 | Fax (604) 822-1001
Email: reservations@housing.ubc.ca

Subject to availability, these rates are extended 3 days before and 3 days after the conference for those wishing an extended stay in Vancouver. Cancellation charges will apply.

Note: Parking is an additional $16/day or $35/wk.  Transit express bus to downtown 20 minutes.

Questions? Email pnlha@shaw.ca or call Joey Hartman at 778-870-0703

Labor Archives of Washington’s New Television Segment Airs This Weekend on KOMO TV (Seattle), Streams online Thereafter


The Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections,  is pleased to announce the first episode of our new segment on the news magazine show UW360. The multi-episode segment will highlight the Labor Archives’ collections, researchers, and community supporters, will air on KOMO TV on Sunday, October 2 at 5:30 PM and stream on various media platforms including YouTube, Roku and Amazon Fire TV, thereafter. The rest of the episodes of the series are in production and will air over the next year.
Here’s the direct link to the Labor Archives segment: http://uwtv.org/series/uw360/watch/kfs6VK-HpS4/
Here’s the link to the entire episode:

Everett Massacre Centennial Boat Tour and Commemoration

With today’s labor civil rights still under attack, join us to remember and to commemorate the brave people who sailed to Everett from Seattle in a fight for free speech. Theirs is a cause to remember, to celebrate, to win. Their fight is our fight.

Join in Solidarity Graphic_Everett-Massacre_Wobblies_ca1916to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Everett Massacre.

Sail from Seattle to Everett on the Virginia V   November 12, 2016 with the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA) and the Snohomish County Labor Council.




Boat Tour Schedule:

  • 9:30 AM Board Virginia V at Shilshole Bay Marina.  

  • 9:30AM-11:30 AM Sailing Aboard the Virginia V to Everett

  • c. 11:30 AM- c. 1:30 PM Event at Port of Everett

  • c. 2:00PM- c. 4:00 PM Sail back aboard Virginia V to Shilshole Bay Marina.

There will also be a free event from noon to 2:30 PM at the Port of Everett if you are not able to sail with us.

Boat Tour Tickets: The boat tour has been sold out. If you still wish to participate, please consider joining us at the FREE event from 12pm-2:30pm at the Port of Everett on November 12.

On November 5th, 1916 250 men packed aboard the steamers Verona and Calista and sailed from Seattle to fight for their right to free speech and to support striking shingle workers in Everett.  Five of them would never make it back. 

These men, from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), though not part of the AFL like the shingle weavers, felt the need to help their fellow workers get a decent wage for their work.  As they were landing they sang, “Hold the Fort for we are coming, Union hearts be strong…”

The business leaders in Everett, fearful of the IWW’s revolutionary rhetoric, had the sheriff and some 200 “deputized” and armed men confront the union men at the docks.  Undeterred by the hundreds of guns pointed at them, they prepared to disembark. 

“Who is your leader,” shouted Sheriff Donald McRae.

“We are all leaders here.” Came the reply.

McRae pulled his gun. The gangplank was almost in place. “You can’t land here!” McRae shouted.

“The hell we can’t!”

A shot rang out from somewhere.  Then another. Then the battle was on and all chaos erupted.  After the shooting stopped, five men from the IWW lay dead as did two deputies. Many more were wounded.  Once the members of the IWW returned to Seattle they were arrested and charged with murder, but no one was convicted and eventually all charges were dropped. 

Printable Flyer

Sen. Rosenbaum receives PNLHA award

Sen Rosenbaum award presentation - June 3, 2016Sen. Dianne Rosenbaum received the Ross Rieder History Person of the Year Award on June 3, 2016. The senator shared this year’s award with Dick Edgington who received his award at the PNLHA conference awards banquet on May 21, 2016. Oregon trustee Jim Strassmaeir and new Oregon vice-president Ryan Wisnor presented the award.

Senator Rosenbaum represents District 21 in Southeast Portland and Milwaukie. She chairs the Senate Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments and is a member of the Senate Workforce and Judiciary Committee. She is a passionate advocate for women and working families, serving on the Oregon Hunger Task Force and on the board of Labor’s Community Services of United Way. Her accomplishments include passage of Oregon’s landmark Paid Sick Days and Retirement Security laws, as well as the Foreclosure Avoidance Program. She is a life-long member the Communications Workers of America and has served on the Oregon AFL-CIO executive board. She led two successful campaigns to raise Oregon’s minimum wage, and continues to lead the fight for a living wage. See also https://nwlaborpress.org/2002/8-16-02Rosenbaum.html .

The award for History Maker of the Year will be presented to the Rural Organizing Project at a later date.

New VPs and trustees acclaimed at AGM

Ryan Wisnor with AndyRyan Wisnor, an Oregon trustee and oral historian, was acclaimed Oregon vice-president at the annual PNLHA membership meeting on May 22, 2016. Ryan succeeds Ron Verzuh who has stepped down to continue his PhD studies. David Swan of IAM Local 751 becomes Washington VP, replacing Jason Redrup, and Brian Charlton remains BC’s VP. Lane Poncy stays as secretary and Brenda Doolittle as treasurer. Joey Hartman continues as BC treasurer.

Acclaimed as trustees for Oregon are Bob Bussel, Norm Diamond, Nathan Moore, Jim Strassmaier, and Mike Sullivan. Washington trustees are Christine Fullerton, Jason Redrup, Conor Casey, John Boyle, Mike Honey, Jeremy Coty, and Ross Rieder. BC trustees are Anne Davis, Larry Kuehn, Scarlet Scheibel, Coleen Jones, and Allen Seager.

The meeting also voted to create an electronic voting system for future elections and to end the president’s stipend. Oregon member Bruce Nelson reported that the financial audit authorized by last year’s annual meeting failed to produce results due to a lack of cooperation.


2016 PNLHA conference report

Solidarity Forever finale 2 - Friday receptionAnnual conference well received

 The 48th annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, held May 20-22, 2016, in Portland, was well received based on word-of-mouth comments and evaluations completed by 30 of about 125 participants, including 114 paid registrants.


What did participants like best? One respondent summarized the feeling of many by praising “the interaction, friendliness and openness” of the conference. Another appreciated “the atmosphere of sharing, learning and solidarity.” Still another commented on how the content “related to contemporary issues.” Another liked the “great mix of scholars and activists [engaged] in lively and fruitful dialogue.”


What did they like least? More than one respondent complained that there were too many good presentations to choose from. Some complained that there was not enough diversity: “Overall, it’s still a very white-person focused perspective, I can see that there’s an effort being make to change that, but [there’s] a long way to go.” Others said the conference needed more youth involvement. One suggested that the PNLHA sponsor a scholarship for high school and university students to attend the conference. Another proposed an essay or speech writing contest with the winner coming to the conference.

 Workshops, plenaries rated high

Twenty-six respondents gave the presentations an overall rating of “excellent” or “very good.” One respondent said they were “top notch” and another said they were “worth the price of admission.” Some were disappointed that they could not attend all the presentations.


Sharing top honors for the favorite presentation were British Columbia filmmaker Neil Vokey’s U.S. premiere of Goodwin’s Way, University of Colorado (Denver) instructor James Walsh’s presentation on the Romero Theater Troupe, and University of Wisconsin scholar Andrew Wolf’s “The Living Wage and the Articulation of Working-Class Citizenship, 1920-1970.” The climate change roundtable discussion, the literature of labor, “Labor history: old style and digital style,” also won praise as did Gwen Trice’s presentation on African-American loggers, Steve McQuiddy on conscientious objectors in Waldport, Oregon, during the Second World War, Pacific University’s Larry Lipin on class and wilderness management, and PNLHA trustee Ryan Wisnor ‘s “The Trees Saved Them,” a unique angle on the historic 1934 longshoremen’s strike.

 Program events highlights

 Oregon First Nation’s leader Carolee Morris, a member of the Cowlitz First Nation tribal council, welcomed participants to our Friday night reception. She was followed by Portland band General Strike that brought the evening to a close with a rousing round of Solidarity Forever.


Both the Saturday and Sunday plenaries were well attended and received favorable comments. Saturday’s keynote session garnered the most votes for “favorite presentation.” Sunday’s plenary won praise both for Washington State Labor Council president Jeff Johnson’s incisive comments on the need for labor to work for positive answers to climate change problems, and for the use of Skype to allow labor/environmental author Jeremy Brecher to respond.


About 100 participants attended the banquet and awards ceremony. Participants applauded the food and the unionized staff that provided it. They also enjoyed Bellingham, WA, musician Dana Lyons who set a positive and participatory tone for the evening with his first set, featuring his trademark Cows with Guns song.


The awards ceremony was interrupted when Dick Edgington, a co-recipient of the Ross Rieder Person of the Year Award, lost his balance and fell while mounting the stage to accept the award from PNLHA Oregon trustee Jim

Strassmaier. Conference participant Dr. Larry Morgenstern attended to Edgington along with nurse Maurge Dulaney as well as presenter Joanne Ursino. An ambulance team also examined Edgington and reported only minor injuries. The unfortunate incident disrupted the evening but a second musical set by Dana Lyons provided some tension relief for the remaining conference attendees.


Edgington’s co-recipient Senator Dianne Rosenbaum was to receive her award on June 3. A future date will be set to present the History Maker of the Year Award to the Rural Organizing Project.

 Cultural program applauded

Three musical groups – Portland’s General Strike, Eugene’s Monday Morning Denial, and Bellingham, WA’s Dana Lyons were all applauded. As one evaluation noted, “The incredible music programming conveyed not only entertainment, but also the integral part it has played in the history of the labor movement.” Oregon trustee Nathan Moore, working with sound technician Dennis Soper, also playing harmonica with Monday Morning Denial, ensured that the music was technically excellent. Nathan also worked closely with Oregon trustee Ryan Wisnor who acted as liaison with the conference facility staff.

Fundraising results encouraging

There were 28 co-sponsors, three of which came after the conference ended. In-kind contributions included union photocopying of the kit materials by SEIU Local 503 members from the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon as well as the free printing of the colorful conference brochure that appeared in all conference kit folders. Thanks to Portland’s union printer, Morel Ink. A poster with the names of conference co-sponsors was displayed throughout the conference and several announcements were made to thank them. The names also appeared at www.pnlha.org.

 Exhibitors’ displays added color

The conference hosted about 10 exhibitors, including several booksellers, a photo display, a solidarity quilt raffle, and a Columbian workers table. Choosing to have the exhibits arranged around the Friday reception room added much color to the proceedings.

 Kudos to conference organizers

The conference strongly benefitted from the volunteer work of the following people: Program coordination – Marcus Widenor; Venue/catering – Lane Poncy; A/V-Internet-Skype ­– Ryan Wisnor; Awards – Jim Strassmaier; Registration – Bruce Nelson and Carolyn Matthews; Exhibitor displays – LisaMary Wichowski; Photography and design – Leola Jewett-Verzuh; Music coordination – Nathan Moore; Overall coordination, fundraising, publicity, and conference kit development – Ron Verzuh.

 A final word of thanks

Judging from the written evaluations and verbal comments during the conference, the event was a programming success. Several participants were inspired by the proceedings and have pledged to attend future PNLHA conferences. The accident during the awards ceremony represented a flaw in the management of the event. As noted on several evaluation forms, needs of the elderly must be fully addressed in future. The conference was an overall financial success and all conference volunteers deserve a vote of thanks as do all our co-sponsors.

Note: More conference photos will be posted to a gallery section of our site.

2017 PNLHA Conference – Call for Papers

Echoes of the 1917 Russian Revolution; Decades of Radicalism and Red Scares in the Labour Movements of the Pacific NorthwestCFP

May 26 – 28, 2017
Labour History Conference
Vancouver, British Columbia

Sponsors: Pacific Northwest Labour History Association & BC Labour Heritage Centre

The Russian Revolution was one of the most significant events of its decade. As described in Oregonian John Reed’s book, there were events leading to and flowing from those “Ten Days That Shook the World” in October 1917.

In Canada and the US, many 20170453269_95b7cbaa22_oworkers saw an opportunity for class war, believing that socialism could overcome capitalism as the dominant political reality. In the Pacific Northwest, new forms of industrial organizing were bolstered by aspirations of a new world order, and the labour movement briefly swelled with enthusiastic members who were eager to be part of the change.

Communists and socialists developed as key leaders in the labour movement, and in organizing the unemployed and disenfranchised. General strikes in Vancouver, Seattle, and Winnipeg, the OBU, On-to-Ottawa Trek, and jobless sit-down strikes, and new unions of woodworkers, miners, shipyard workers, and fishers were all communist and socialist-led.

21835627452_062d9964f9_oBut capitalism held firm and enjoyed the resources and political clout of the wealthy. Activists were tagged as Bolsheviks and foreign-born agitators risked deportation for their activism.

The cold-war politics lasted decades, with “red-led” unions subject to purges and disbandment. Many individuals suffered personal consequences, including losing their livelihood.

This conference will explore the impacts and lasting influences of this history on contemporary labour.

Continue reading

Sandy Ellis – Oregon Oral History Program – Featured Interview


Sandy Ellis (1987)

Sandy Ellis taught school for fifteen years before being elected President of the Oregon Education Association (OEA) at the age of 36. She led the OEA through important changes including implementation of affirmative action and a merger with classified employees. Ellis provided leadership at both the local and state level.

Now listen to excerpts from her oral history conducted by the Oregon Labor Oral History Program.

For more information about sponsoring an oral history or to volunteer for interviewing, research, or transcribing contact former Oregon PNLHA VP Carolyn Matthews matthews.carolyn.k@comcast.net or trustee Jim Strassmaier strassj@spiritone.com.