Reflections on the Meaning of Thanksgiving, Then and Now

Today, the AFL-CIO’s commentary on Thanksgiving revolves around the discussion over whether retailers should open on the holiday, which Thanksgiving treats are union-made, and how working Americans give back to others during the holiday season. You can read the AFL-CIO’s most-recent Thanksgiving posts online on their blog.

In the 1960s and 1970s, editorial cartoonist John Stampone delivered a different message in the Thanksgiving cartoons that he drew for the AFL-CIO News, the AFL-CIO’s main news publication. Stampone portrays Thanksgiving and its tasty bounties as both symbolic of and the result of American democracy. In a cartoon that Stampone drew to commemorate the holiday in 1966, a family says grace over a turkey that represents the “benefits of democracy.”

In a similar cartoon that Stampone drew in 1974, rays of light bearing the label “Freedom and Democracy” shine down on a family who are also gathered around their Thanksgiving table in prayer.

The cartoons’ overt patriotic message is open for interpretation and leave us with many questions. What did freedom and democracy mean to people in the 1960s and 1970s? What’s the relationship between the benefits of democracy and America’s labor movement? Why don’t Americans today color Thanksgiving with such strong shades of red, white, and blue?

Even though Stampone’s patriotic message seems so different from our modern discussions of the Thanksgiving holiday, the AFL-CIO News cartoons and the AFL-CIO’s more-recent discussions convey a similar and important message: Thanksgiving remains a beloved and cherished family holiday today.

UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives has the original cartoons drawn for the AFL-CIO News by LeBaron Coakley “Coak”, John Stampone “Stam”, Bernard Seaman, and Ben Yomen. Contact Us for more information about this collection and other items in the AFL-CIO archive.

Barton/Veltrusky working in his Paris apartment, circa 1970s.

Archiving AFL-CIO

Spotlight on Paul Barton:

AFL-CIO European Representative, 1968-1994

By Chris Carter
University of Maryland iSchool graduate, May 2015

Creating a plan

As a part of my Master of Library Science degree, I worked at the AFL-CIO Archives for my field study course and worked on a semester-long project with the institution.  The collection I worked on was the unprocessed records of Paul Barton, the European Representative of the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, to make them accessible to the public.  This collection is twelve linear feet of records created and accumulated by Barton between 1945 and 1992.  To make these records accessible we conducted a survey of the records, created a processing plan, and wrote the finding aid.

Understanding the subject

Barton/Veltrusky working in his Paris apartment, circa 1970s.

Barton/Veltrusky working in his Paris apartment, circa 1970s.

As a part of this process we conducted some research on Paul Barton to provide context for the records.  Paul Barton, whose real name was Jiri Veltrusky, was a Czech from Czechoslovakia born on June 5, 1919.  Barton who, as an intellectual in Prague received his PhD in the philosophy of aesthetics of semiotics with a special interest in theater, was a member of the Prague Circle, a group of intellectuals, as well as an advocate for free trade unions and democracy.  When the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia successfully launched a coup and took over the government in 1948, Barton, like other pro-democracy advocates, was forced to flee the country or face persecution, ultimately fleeing to Paris where he would live the remainder of his life.  In the early years of his exile Barton used several pseudonyms before settling on Paul Barton.  While in Paris he spent time writing articles and supporting the labor union movement, becoming a representative of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions before joining the AFL-CIO around 1968.  Upon joining the AFL-CIO he served as the European Representative of the AFL-CIO International Affairs department, serving in the Paris office until his death on May 31, 1994.

Contextualizing the collection

Books authored by Barton

Books authored by Barton

Barton’s papers reflect the many communities the AFL-CIO worked with as the records are found in six languages, English, French, German, Russian, Czech and Spanish.   The topics in the records also demonstrate concerns held by Barton and the AFL-CIO, with topics ranging from trade unions in the USSR and developing countries and forced labor in the USSR.  The records also reflect the views of labor unions concerning such historical events like the Prague Spring in 1968 and the 1970 Polish Protests.

These records complement currently available collections in the AFL-CIO Archives, including the records of Jay Lovestone (2014-001-RG18-003), Irving Brown (2014-001-RG18-004), and the Country Files from the International Affairs Department (2014-001-RG18-001 and 2014-001-RG18-010).  The Thomas Kahn papers are also related, however they are not open to the public yet.  Note: Records dating after 1965 may be restricted.

Contact us if you have any questions or are interested in researching these collections.

Explore UMD’s labor collections, including the AFL-CIO archive.

Pride at Work records at UMD

We are excited to announce that the University of Maryland is now the repository for the records of Pride at Work!

Labor Archivist Jennifer Eidson packs up boxes with Pride at Work’s Executive Director Jerame Davis.

Labor Archivist Jennifer Eidson packs up boxes with Pride at Work’s Executive Director Jerame Davis.

Pride at Work (P@W) is an AFL-CIO constituency group that represents and advocates for LGBT union members across the United States. Since 1994, P@W has sought “full equality for LGBT Workers in our workplaces and unions” while “creating a Labor Movement that cherishes diversity, encourages openness, and ensures safety & dignity.”

This July, UMD archives staff accessioned records from P@W’s Washington, D.C. office. The collection documents the work and activities of P@W advocating for worker rights, P@W’s Labor Leadership Initiative’s training and educational component, as well as the evolution of the organization’s history.

In the upcoming months, UMD’s archivists will inventory and organize the records so that researchers can have easier access to them.

Stay tuned for more news as we prepare this exciting new collection to be opened to the public!

Contact us if you have any questions or are interested in researching in the collection.

Learn more about Pride at Work or explore UMD’s labor collections, including the AFL-CIO archive.

AFL-CIO News is Online!

AFL-CIO News is Online!

The AFL-CIO News is a publication produced by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) from 1955-1996. Before the AFL and CIO merged in 1955, they each published their own newspaper.  The AFL news-reporter was published from 1951-1955, and the CIO News was published from 1937-1955.

In 2014/2015 the University of Maryland was able to digitize about half of the AFL-CIO News. Volumes 1-25 (1956-1980) are available online in the Internet Archive; each volume can be searched separately by keyword.  Volumes 26-40 (1981-1996) will be digitized next year. We hope to digitize the CIO News in future years.

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The AFL news-reporter is available online in the HathiTrust Digital Library (limited search only).

Our Special Collections in Labor History & Workplace Studies also have the original cartoon drawings printed in the AFL-CIO News by LeBaron Coakley, John Stampone, and Bernard Seaman.


Explore our Labor History Subject Guide, or contact a curator for more information!

Labor History Wikipedia Edit-a-thon


Hornbake Library

Friday, May 1, 1:30 – 4:30 pm

Join a community interested in promoting labor history by editing the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Part celebration and part workshop, Edit-a-Thons are organized around a single topic as a means to build awareness and community.  We’ll draw content from labor-related collections at the University of Maryland, including the recently acquired AFL-CIO Archives. No editing or technical experience necessary. All participants will receive complimentary issues of Labor’s Heritage journal. As part of a nationwide effort, other libraries with significant labor collections will also participate.

Event details:

This event is followed by:

AFL-CIO Archive Reception & Tour, 4:30 – 6:00 pm

George Meany

George Meany

Join us for a unique opportunity to view the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archive, a prestigious archive originally at the National Labor College. These rich archives provide a unique history of the labor struggle in the United States and internationally. See behind the scenes in the archives stacks: labor cartoons, buttons, pins, and memorabilia.  Civil Rights and Labor items will be on display in the Maryland Room. In addition, view labor-related materials, including photographs, censored newspaper articles, posters,  and magazines, from the Gordon W. Prange Collection, the largest archive in the world of Japanese print publications from the early years of the Allied Occupation of Japan, 1945-1949.

New Exhibit: Civil Rights and Labor: in the United States, in Poland, and in South Africa

New Exhibit: Civil Rights and Labor…in the United States, in Poland, and in South Africa


Labor unions have long been advocates for equality in the workplace, civil rights and worker’s rights, however this wasn’t always the case before the AFL and CIO merged in 1955.  Understanding civil rights is still evolving today, as we see in current events in the United States and around the world.  The records of the AFL-CIO are a treasure trove, rich with a variety of materials available for research on this.  The University of Maryland is the official repository of the AFL-CIO records.  Find out more about all of our labor collections here.


The Civil Rights Movement in the United States

The exhibit highlights the overlapping interests in equal rights, between the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke at the AFL-CIO Convention, and in the same year George Meany sent a telegram to King lauding King’s contributions to advance the cause of equality for all citizens, a goal AFL-CIO fully supported, and went on to say:

It is not mere coincidence that where civil rights are most strongly suppressed, unions are most vigorously opposed.  Nor is it coincidence that where negroes exist under miserable social and economic conditions, wages are lowest for all workers, social legislation least advanced and anti-labor legislation most severe.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was strongly supported by Martin Luther King, Jr., George Meany, and President Lyndon Johnson.  And, when King was assassinated, many national and international labor unions poured out telegrams to the AFL-CIO, and a number of press releases were written by AFL-CIO in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  On the night of King’s death April 4, 1968, Meany sent out a press release stating that the “murder of Dr. Martin Luther King is an American tragedy.”

Our collections also include some information about The March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963. The March was not fully sponsored by the AFL-CIO because of internal conflicts about civil rights.

IMG_3781Apartheid in South Africa

The AFL-CIO’s allied African American Labor Center was involved with the anti-apartheid movement responding to multiple civil and worker’s rights violations in South Africa, however the AFL-CIO did not fully engage until later because of the communist leadership in the anti-apartheid movement.  In 1986, the AFL-CIO participated in a global boycott of Shell Oil Company.


Solidarnosc in Poland

The Polish Solidarnosc movement was strongly supported by AFL-CIO President, Lane Kirkland in the 1980s.  The AFL-CIO International Affairs Department sent monthly contributions of $500 to support the underground union organizers in Poland.  The AFL even sent CARE packages to Poland in 1949 and received handwritten letters of thanks from Polish citizens.

Our labor collections are comprised of AFL-CIO Department records, trade department records, international union records, union programs, union organizations with allied or affiliate relationships with the AFL-CIO, and personal papers of union leaders. We also have extensive photo documentation of labor union activities from the 1940s to the present in the photographic negative and digital collections. Additionally, collections of graphic images, over 10,000 audio tapes, several hundred films and videotapes, and over 2,000 artifacts are available for research and study.

Find out more about all of our labor collections here, or contact a curator for more information!