Words from David Montgomery's Memorial Service on January 28th

30 Jan 2012 11:59 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
Statement on Behalf of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association at the Memorial Service of David Montgomery, Saturday, January 28, 2012 at Battell Chapel, New Haven, CT
Joan Cavanagh

The Board, members and staff of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association join today with all here to honor our long time member and dear friend David Montgomery, whose words example, and life have and always will continue to guide us as we move forward in our work.

David was one of the biggest supporters and most active members of the Labor History Association almost from its inception in 1988. He contributed the lead article to the Labor Almanac, a joint endeavor in 1995 between the Labor History Association and the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council. Entitled “One Hundred Sixty Years of Labor’s Struggles for a Better New Haven,” the article discussed, among other things, how the labor movement in New Haven first took root within the town’s early immigrant communities and later in its African American community.

David was one of the narrators and commentators on the Labor History Association’s award-winning Labor History Bus Tour of New Haven in 1999 and again in 2000. He was a key note speaker at the New England regional conference of labor history associations held in New Haven on October 24, 1992, sponsored by GNHLHA. He was one of the planners and leaders of the Association’s River Street Walking Tour in 2004, which he followed by a presentation and a two hour long question and answer session attended by over 75 people at Fair Haven Woodworks. A recipient of the Augusta Lewis Troup Preservation Award presented annually by the Greater New Haven labor History Association, he was, over the years, often a speaker or panelist and usually a participant in our annual meetings. At our 2008 meeting, which commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, he gave a sterling presentation and then led a spirited discussion about the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 and its long term implications for both the civil rights and labor movements.

I wrote him an email in March of 2011 to try to entice him back from Pennsylvania to once again join our annual meeting of 2011, which was to focus on the current labor struggles and resistance in Wisconsin. I mentioned that we were going to, among other things, be discussing our Association’s planned legislative initiative to mandate the teaching of labor history in Connecticut’s public schools. I commented somewhat a-historically that such legislation had “ironically” already been adopted in the now labor-embattled state of Wisconsin. David wasn’t able to make the meeting, but he did give me a short history lesson in his reply email. As I read the email, I could almost hear the enthusiastic lilt in his voice that was always there when he warmed to his subject matter: “You [meaning the Greater New Haven Labor History Association] have been up to good work this past year, including the effort to get labor history into the curriculum of public schools,” he graciously commented. Then he continued with this gentle correction: “By the way, it is not surprising that the effort was pioneered in Wisconsin. The state has much in its political past of which it can be proud, including the School for Workers at the university in Madison, the long-lasting Socialist government in Milwaukee, the famous labor history archives at the university, and, of course, the legacy of Fighting Bob LaFollette -- from back in the days when some of the country's best politicians were Republicans (hard as it may be to believe now).”

In its spring 1980 edition, Radical History Review published an interview with David Montgomery called “Once Upon a Shop Floor”. This was years before the birth of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, but at its conclusion, David articulated his vision of the work of “radical historians,” and it is one that is surely at the core of what our Association must continue to strive to be about: “When you come right down to it, history is the only teacher the workers have. A central task that all of us face today is going back to square one in our own revolutionary experience. Very clearly, as we survey the great struggles that need to be recounted, we must look with a cold eye at all of that experience to find out where we went wrong, where there were great lessons to be drawn from positive experience, what the propelling forces of historical change have been, and how to make the dynamics of our own movement public knowledge once again. In all my work I’ve tried to look at the long course of development, in part to avoid terms of analysis which have been reified by society, or by our movement, at particular times. But also to show how many long familiar struggles keep reappearing in different forms.”

Thank you, David, from all at the Greater New Haven Labor History Association for the gift of your words, your example, your life. You are always with us.
Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 •  info@laborhistory.org •

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