Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Man from Kerry

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of perhaps the second most famous speech in American history on August 28, 1963   (Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is certainly the first), the man who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. is being commemorated for his place in American history. One of the little known aspects of his life was his relationship with an Irishman, Michael J. Quill, the founder and president of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in New York City.


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Tags: Diaspora History

Comment by Gerry Regan on August 24, 2013 at 12:09pm

Thanks for this timely post, Jim.

Comment by Joe Gannon on August 24, 2013 at 9:51pm

Great article, Jim. The fight of working people for respect, dignity and a living wage has always been an area that brought different ethnic groups together.

Comment by James McNamara on August 26, 2013 at 8:51pm

A very good read Jim.  Thanks for sharing.

Comment by John W. Hurley on August 28, 2013 at 10:27pm

That is a great article about two great men. I've read Mike Quill: Himself  by his wife Shirley Quill and it's a great book about Quill's life. My Dad (being from Kerry) always used to laugh telling me how Quill would deliberately mispronounce Mayor Lindsay's name every time he appeared on TV at the time. His time in the IRA in Mike Quill: Himself  is really interesting and they really did organize the TWU like an imitation IRA, even speaking in Irish on phones that they knew were tapped by company men. When Shirley Quill goes to Kerry to interview John Joe Rice for the book (he was Quill's C.O. I think, in the IRA) she finds Rice reading a copy of Che Guevera's "Guerrilla Warfare" which had been banned by the Irish government at the time. Those guys never changed one bit till the day they died, just like MLK said about Quill, he fought for the underdog constantly, his whole life and seemed to love every minute of it!

Comment by Jim Curley on August 29, 2013 at 7:39am
When I was growing up, we had a TWU man living up the street from us. Though he was native Irish, he wasn't a great fan of Quill. He felt that Quill caved in to the city in wage negotiations during Robert Wagner's administration. I've read that a transit strike at the beginning of Lindsay's administration was inevitable since TWU members were pushing Quill for action on wages and benefits. It probably didn't hurt that Lindsay gave off the airs of a patrician, and Mike Quill played the part of an old-time labor leader.

Incidentally, the park at East Durham, New York (Irish Catskills) that hosts the annual Andy McCann Memorial Concert each July is named for Mike Quill.
Comment by Jim Goulding on August 29, 2013 at 10:04am

Thanks for the interesting comments. Yes Jim, it is true that a strong personality like Quill had his enemies as well as his friends. And yes, from time to time there were groups within the TWU who pushed against Mike Quill especially the motormen (the train drivers) to fight for a better deal. And that was certainly a factor in the background at the time when Mayor Lindsay ("Mr. Lindsley" as Quill called him with his heavy Irish brogue) took office. And John, even though Shirley Quill found John Joe Rice reading Che Guevarra's works, I know of no connection between Quill himself and Che. I did a piece last year on Che (of whom I am no fan), if you are interested

But the point of the present piece on Mike Quill is that he championed the cause of the downtrodden and the underdog throughout his years in America and that brought him into relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Comment by Jim Curley on August 29, 2013 at 12:16pm

Thanks, Jim, for your comments. My neighbor was indeed a motorman,


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