In The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park , we looked at some lesser known features of Highland Park, including the AIDS Remembrance Garden.
Another under recognized site is the Worker’s Memorial, a plaque and a monument located on the Highland Drive side of the park.
In 1989 the Rochester Labor Council, with the Rochester Council on Occupational Safety and Health, dedicated a permanent marker in Highland Park as a tribute to those who are killed or injured on the job. On the marker is a quote from Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” (Rochester Labor History website)
In 2015, the larger monument, a simple pillar with an engraved symbol of hands holding up the earth, was erected by the Rochester and Vicinity Labor Council, along with some state funding. The front is adorned with brass markers representing local labor unions.
Having taken a closer look at the Monument during the Lilac Festival, to learn more I dropped by the annual barbecue during the Lilac Parade held at the Graphic Communications Conference Teamster Local 503 on South Avenue. There I met its President, Mike Stafford. Offering me a hamburger, Mike told me some more about the Memorial.
Mike explained that since the permanent marker was established in 1989, every April 28th on Worker’s Memorial Day, people gather to honor area workers. Since the pillar was built in 2015, the gathering has been larger.
Because the Conference is so close to the Memorial, the marker and pillar have special meaning for Mike who has been to just about every one of the ceremonies.
Mike has been involved in the labor movement most of his adult life and workplace safety is a top priority. Mike recalled that the 2017 ceremony honored four local workers killed on the job this year, including the grim tragedy of a man operating a balloon in Dansville who was swept off the ground and fell to his death. Mike added that office workers — which he is now — often forget that people in dangerous occupations go to work everyday not knowing if they will be injured or worse.
After talking with Mike and enjoying the Lilac Festival cookout, I went to the Memorial and asked people their impressions. Of about or dozen or so respondents, only one had previously seen the pillar or the marker.
Nonetheless, when each took a closer at the Memorial almost to a person they were impressed. Several people just looked at the inscription — Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living” — and felt the words were appropriate or inspiring.
Like others, John Schmidt thought the Memorial was part of the nearby Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. When he discovered the site was in honor of fallen workers, John’s opinion was that the Worker’s Memorial was, in a way, too small in contrast to the Vietnam Memorial. John said he fully respected the sacrifice of the soldiers, but when you consider the sheer number of injured, disabled, and killed workers, they deserve a more extensive space of honor.
Kim Rivers-Van Ness appreciated that the Memorial captured some of the lost history of labor unions, especially in the quotes by Mother Jones. Kim considered the labor movement to be its own kind of Civil Rights movement. Kim added that she worked in a non-union shop and wished she had union representation.
Like many younger people, Gilbert Ortega admitted he did not know that much about the labor movement that unfortunately has been on the decline for decades. At the same time, Gilbert proudly called himself a worker and was happy to pose next to the Memorial.
Kelsey and Motis also did not know much about the contemporary worker’s movement. But like Gilbert, they considered themselves workers and were glad to see the Memorial. Kelsey added that people like construction workers are sometimes stereotyped as flirty or lazy, when really their work can be quite dangerous.
Next time you are in Highland Park, seek out this unique and powerful Memorial.