Lumpkin, Saint of Chicago, feted at 90

CHICAGO — “We look forward to celebrating Frank’s 180th birthday,” declared Scott Marshall, labor secretary of the Communist Party and friend of Frank Lumpkin, who was celebrating his 90th birthday with family, friends and comrades at a packed Unity Center on Oct. 13. “It’s ironic because Frank has never done anything 180 in his life. He’s never turned away from a fight.”

At Lumpkin’s request, there were no presents — except for donations to his favorite newspaper, the People’s Weekly World. The event, which included a sumptuous chicken dinner, cake and plenty of spirits, netted over $1,500 for the fund drive, several new subscriptions and many new name listings for a birthday greeting ad that will appear in an upcoming issue. Lumpkin has been a reader and distributor of the PWW for 70 years.

Lumpkin listened as he was feted for a lifetime of unwavering commitment to workers’ rights and the struggle for socialism and for his love and devotion to his family, including his wife Bea and children, who were all present.

Marshall recounted how Lumpkin has been a key part of every important struggle spanning the decades. Lumpkin had been politically active since he was a young steelworker in Buffalo, N.Y., during the early years of World War II. He later shipped out with the Merchant Marines to fight fascism.

He joined the Young Communist League and Communist Party during that time and became a member of the national leadership for many years.

He and Bea moved to Chicago in 1949 where he found a job at Wisconsin Steel, owned by International Harvester. In 1980, the company shut the plant down, putting 4,000 workers on the street with bounced paychecks and looted pensions. Lumpkin organized the workers and led a 17-year fight to win back their pay and pensions. Lumpkin became known as the “Saint of Chicago” because of the struggle.

Members of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees joined Lumpkin, who was out the previous week with SOAR on a labor walk for Tammy Duckworth, candidate in the hotly contested 6th Congressional District race. The SOAR members included George Edwards, emeritus member of SOAR’s executive board, who traveled from Pittsburgh.

“Frank will always have seniority on me, said Edwards. “He’s a dear friend and I wish him many more.”

“Frank has been active in more struggles than you can count. In fact, for many years he was the only male member of Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women. Frank would often be the only man on our picket lines,” recounted Katie Jordan, president of the Chicago chapter. “Both Frank and Bea are among my dearest friends.”

Marshall recalled that Lumpkin was present at the first meeting to organize the mayoral campaign for the late Harold Washington. Lumpkin helped set up a labor committee, which was instrumental in getting labor support for Washington and helping him win.

With friends from around the world, Lumpkin received warm birthday greetings from Chile. “Happy nineties, dear buddy,” began the e-mail from Lucy and Nery Barrientos. “You and Bea founded a great family. We need more Franks and Beas all over this world. We love you, and admire you — captain of the people.”

Everyone had a great time.