SALEM — The story of America’s labor movement, especially in history books, has not routinely highlighted the roles and influences of immigrants, says Priscilla Murolo, professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. Yet immigrants are arguably at the core of any U.S. history of labor, from enslaved people to migrant workers, from the doctors in our operating rooms to the professors at our colleges’ lecterns.
Murolo and her husband, Ben Chitty, a librarian at Queens College in New York, are the first presenters in The House of the Seven Gables’ 2017 season of Seven Lectures at Seven Gables. They will talk about some of the pressing topics covered in their book, “From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States.” They are now at work on a second edition of their survey of labor history and the role it plays in the larger mosaic that is America.
The lecture and discussion is scheduled for Thursday, March 2, beginning at 6 p.m., in the Visitor Center at The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street, Salem, Mass. Some parking is available. Admission is $7 and members may attend free of charge. Murolo and Chitty will sign copies of their book in the Museum Store following the presentation.
The Gables’ programming this year examines life and labor over four centuries on its museum campus — a National Historic Landmark District. The Gables’ annual exhibition, opening this spring, looks at the roles of those who worked onsite, from enslaved people to settlement workers. Further, this year’s Seven Lectures at Seven Gables series features authors from around the country whose topics center on work and its impact on American culture. And the Gables’ popular Community Conversation series opens a dialogue on the labor issues and contemporary American immigrants. Besides these signature programs, Gables staff will offer themed tours, family programs and theatrical experiences to more than 90,000 visitors in the coming year.
There are many ways to view America’s vast history of labor, says Murolo. “In our lecture, we’ll look back at the 1930s, a time when the United States was debating, with great intensity, what it meant to be an American. At the time the CIO — the Congress of Industrial Organizations —stressed unity and diversity. They espoused a vision of Americanism that had more to do with ideas than race and ethnicity.”
“In the ‘20s, if you’d asked people in the United States about its makeup, they’d say it was white protestant,” says Murolo. “The CIO brought the new immigrants and African Americans together in the same organization. Their vision of our nation held that we’re all in this together. They felt that this country had the heritage of Valley Forge and the fight against slavery to uphold — irrespective of how we spell our last name or where our grandfathers were born. This was a very radical concept at the time.”
One of the slogans often heard back then was “Unity and Diversity.” “The language is eerily up to date,” says Murolo. “Theirs was a non-ethnic, democratic vision of Americanism.”
Priscilla Murolo teaches American history at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She has recently been active in support of a successful organizing drive by Operating Engineers Local 30 among maintenance staff at Sarah Lawrence. Ben Chitty is the Library Systems Officer at Queens College of the City University of New York in Flushing, New York. He is active in safety and health issues for his union, the Professional Staff Congress, Local 2334 of the American Federation of Teachers.
Those interested in reservations may visit www.7gables.org/events and select the link for online registration on the lecture page. Those interested may also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-744-0991, ext. 152.
About The House of the Seven Gable Settlement Association
The mission of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is to preserve its National Historic Landmark and leverage its power as an icon of American culture to engage diverse audiences and provide educational opportunities for the local immigrant community. For more information visit www.7gables.org.