While driving through Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood in last days of January 2016 I was delighted to see a familiar face. It was that of Eugene Debs, legendary Hoosier radical, looking triumphant and happy, waving his hat from the first floor fire-escape of a boarded-up tenement. The life-size photograph was from the day of his release from prison in February 1921 after serving three years for sedition for his outspoken opposition to the Great War.
More familiar faces greeted me when I returned to Pullman in May. Dolores Huerta, another Debs, a piercing-eyed Pullman porter (which honestly I first thought was someone peeing in the alley), and even more labor heroes appearing beyond the immediate neighborhood: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, A Philip Randolph, a young Caesar Chavez, Lucy Parsons, even Debs’ beloved hunting dog Babe.
I was in the neighborhood that day to help with an art-build for the upcoming Break Free Midwest protest. Some kind Pullman artists offered us space in the massive former Pullman Administration Building, now a national park. As I explained how excited I was to see Debs to the man unlocking the building he turned to me and said, “Well I put them up!”