Staughton Lynd passed away Thursday morning, November 17, 2022, in Warren, Ohio. He had been in and out of the hospital for several weeks with worsening health, until finally Staughton and his family reached the decision to discontinue aggressive treatment and seek palliative care. His wife Alice, and their children Barbara, Lee, and Martha, accompanied him in his final days, along with the countless friends near and far whose lives he impacted so deeply.
There are countless articles about his deep scholarship and the wide impact of his activism. Others can tell the stories of his time training teachers for the Freedom Schools of the SNCC, or his leadership in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War. Staughton was the author of several notable books over the years and he served as a teacher, activist, public intellectual, and a lawyer for decades. But he was also a great friend to our Union and to all of our organizing. And in his last few months, he became a surprisingly dear friend to one nearby Wobbly from the Northeast Ohio GMB.
I first met Staughton and Alice at the end of a Youngstown May Day event this year. They each gave talks that day, and I dragged my whole family along to hear them. Wrangling my toddlers, I was only able to make it for Staughton’s talk at the end of the day. He discussed Starbucks and Amazon, and rebuilding a labor movement “from below” through the sheer strength of our own solidarity. But the talk was not what impacted me so much. It was afterward, when the gathering ended, the Lynds led us in singing “We Shall Overcome.” At the chorus, Staughton belted out, “Deep in my heart, I STILL believe: we shall overcome someday.”
It’s one of my favorites, but I’d never sung it with anyone before. Then I sang it with Staughton and Alice, and everything changed. Singing together was like a shot of adrenaline to my heart. There was something intangible, in that moment, that he passed on to me, and it rekindled hope. And that hope was something I took home with me and carried into my organizing work and branch building work in the Northeast Ohio GMB. I wanted to show them what we were doing in Northeast Ohio and in the IWW, so I tried every way I could to send them an email. Finally I just wrote them a letter and mailed it to their home address.
To my surprise, they answered.
I didn’t recognize that number calling me one Sunday. I paid it no mind on Monday, either. But Tuesday, I finally checked my email: “Dear Joe, we tried several times to reach you by phone today but you were not available…” (Fellow Workers, I have never picked up the phone in such a rush as when I called them back.)
In the weeks since that first call, Staughton and Alice have shared so generously of their time, wisdom, and friendship with me and with our branch. We quickly started planning events together, and Staughton did not want to wait a single day. We gathered people to watch Shout Youngstown!, a short film about organizing to save our local steel mills. Like any consummate organizer, as soon as people were gathering in the room we rented, he turned to us and asked for a pen and paper to start gathering contacts. At the end of that event Staughton asked that we play his favorite song, Paul Robeson singing “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night”, and once again we sang together.
He was planning steps ahead of us. Staughton was already talking about future actions, like helping a group get together to protest a dangerous incinerator project in Youngstown, and starting a reading group, and asking our GMB if we could take some of his books to start a Worker’s Library, and making plans to come visit the activist space where we had just begun in-person meetings. My heart was bursting when he came over at the end of the night and wrapped his arm around my shoulder as the whole room sang “Solidarity Forever.”
Staughton never officially joined the IWW. No matter. He and Alice have been our unassailable friends, allies, and fellow workers for decades. He told me that he and Alice have learned much from the IWW. But our Union has learned and gained so much from them. And even with Staughton’s impressive academic career, his historic activism, his role in defining solidarity unionism and our own internal debates about what those words mean, nothing he gave us can mean more than his deep and abiding friendship and his unshakable love for our movement. Every bit of news about the union we shared, from the smallest detail about our local organizing to broad sweeping pictures of the IWW as a whole, was met with joy. His friendship and love for our movement is a lesson to all of us in the deepest meaning of solidarity.
I was so blessed to share a few hours with Staughton one more time on November 7. I visited him that morning in the hospital. Staughton had been so ill he was unable to reach the phone, so I dialed Alice and put her on speaker. I’ve never seen such light in a person’s eyes as when Staughton heard Alice pick up on the other end.
Remembering how much he loved Joe Hill, I brought Staughton my prized pin depicting Joe Hill with his guitar. We had bonded over our love of Joe and how, just as Paul Robeson sang, he lives on wherever workers organize. Staughton held my pin up to the light and said, “Bury me with this.” He looked at me and I nodded.
We talked together until my visit had gone on too long. “All right, Fellow Worker,” I told him, “I think it’s time I gave you some rest. I’ll see you on the other side of this.” After a moment, I moved to the doorway and raised my fist: “Solidarity Forever, my friend.” And Staughton, smiling with his eyes, raised himself straight as a beam in bed and imparted a final farewell, his fist held high: “Solidarity Forever!”
Sometime after our visit, Staughton suffered a heart attack and kidney failure. Staughton Lynd will long remain among us, through his books and his ideas, through the countless stories we tell, and in the memory of the incredible love and solidarity he shared with all of us. His work has hardly ended, however. We have to build on his ideas and bring solidarity unionism to life. The community he represented in Youngstown after Black Monday is still fighting for new jobs and in new industries. The prisoners he wrote about and defended, the Lucasville Five, are still on death row today with the first scheduled to be executed in one year. There is much work to be done.
And even knowing all that, one of the things he impressed on us most often was how important it really is that we keep getting together and singing with each other. It is from Staughton Lynd that I learned how to “walk hand in hand.”
Solidarity forever, my dear friend.
I still believe.
Originally posted on NE Ohio IWW General Membership Branch’s website and shared here at the request of the author.
In the month of November we remember our fallen Fellow Workers. Rest in Power. If you would like to submit a remembrance, please email [email protected].