Workers Memorial provides opportunity to remember and renew commitment

Years of effort came to fruition Tuesday with the dedication of the Minnesota Workers Memorial, a monument on the grounds of the state Capitol dedicated to those injured and killed on the job.

The memorial was the vision of Minnesota AFL-CIO President Emeritus Dave Roe, who worked tirelessly to wrangle support for a monument honoring the state’s workers. It consists of a long, stone wall on which is inscribed a poem by Langston Hughes. Other inscriptions will be added, Roe said.

“This memorial is on precious ground,” former Vice President Walter Mondale said in remarks at Tuesday’s dedication ceremony. “This isn’t just any ground. This is precious. That’s where it should be.”

The Capitol grounds include a number of memorials, including several to Minnesotans killed while serving in the military.

Some 250 people, including a number of union leaders and elected officials, attended the dedication ceremony. They said the monument will not only be a place of remembrance, but a place to recommit to the goal of workplace safety.

The memorial is “a place where people can come, reflect and visit a lost one,” said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council. “It will also be a memorial to what needs to happen in the workplace to improve safety.”

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson noted that “Last year, 21 Minnesota workers died on the job as a result of a workplace injury.” Countless more died of work-related illnesses and chronic injuries, she said.

“We should make sure we commit ourselves every day that Minnesota workers come home safe.”

Mondale urged everyone to “put pressure on those who are supposed to be administering these laws” to make workplaces safer.

Roe thanked many people for their support in making the memorial a reality. He singled out the late Russell Fridley, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society, for his unflagging commitment to the project.

Others praised Roe for his tireless effort. Bricklayer Mark Wickstrom, who carved the inscription in the memorial, presented Roe with a piece of the stone quarried for the monument.

“You’ve spoken for the people who couldn’t be here today – who have fallen in the workplace,” Wickstrom told Roe. “This is a thank you from them.”

These words from “Freedom’s Plow,” a poem by Langston Hughes, are inscribed on the memorial:

Free hands and slave hands,

Indentured hands, adventurous hands,

White hands and black hands,

Held the plow handles,

Axe handles, hammer handles,

Launched the boats and whipped the horses

That fed and housed and moved America.

Thus together through labor,

All these hands made America.

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