John L. Lewis Historical Marker Dedication
An Illinois State Historical Society marker commemorating United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) founder John L. Lewis (1880-1969) is scheduled for unveiling at 1 p.m. on Friday, November 5, at John L. Lewis Park, Shoal Creek Avenue and Jefferson Street in Panama.
Over the crackling radio, John L. Lewis was a familiar 1930s-40s voice and newsreel presence. At that time the UMWA was the world’s largest industrial union. Lewis broke away from the American Federation of Labor and founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (1937), launching massive organizing drives that added millions to labor’s ranks, launching unions like the United Auto Workers and the United Steel Workers.
With his bushy eyebrows and stentorian baritone, Lewis’ visage was regularly on magazine covers and newspaper front pages, while his union’s control of coal – the nation’s vital energy source – made the UMWA a powerful force.
Lewis was born in Lucas, Iowa, but came to Panama, Illinois with his parents and his siblings in 1908. The mine there was large and employment readily found. Within a year the Lewis family won election to local union office and Illinois Mine Workers District 12 hired Lewis as their Springfield lobbyist after the Cherry Mine Disaster. His trajectory only went upward from there, leading the UMWA from 1920-1960.
The Village of Panama is going to erect an Illinois State Historical marker at 1 p.m. on Friday, November 5 at the John L. Lewis Park – Union Memorial Cemetery. The effort is being supported by the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO), Laborers International Union of North America—Midwest Region, United Mine Workers of America and the Illinois Labor History Society.
The dedication site is at Shoal Creek Avenue and Jefferson Street in Panama on the southwest side of town. Panama is east of Mt. Olive and south of Hillsboro, Illinois, approximately two miles east of Highway 127 at Donnellson. The event is free and open to the public.
For more information, contact Deborah Hancock, Panama Village Clerk, at 217-710-1006, Illinois State Historical Society Executive Director William Furry at 217-525-2781 or Mike Matejka, Illinois Labor History Society Vice-President at 309-208-1120.
John L. Lewis Park – Union Memorial Cemetery
Shoal Creek Avenue and Jefferson Street
Panama, IL (Map)