An activist's life

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By LOUIS McGILL

Among those buried in Forest Park's own Forest Home Cemetery are the bodies of those sentenced to hang in connection to the Haymarket Riot of 1886. These were members of the worker's rights movement that eventually brought about labor reforms such as the eight-hour work day.

The cemetery has attracted labor and pro-union advocates, anarchists, and liberals from the local area and around the world who wished to have their bodies interred or ashes scattered in the presence of these deceased activists.

Some gravesites aren't marked, the monument dedicated to their lives has been vandalized, and their stories went mostly unheard until 1994, when two men decided to dig up their lives.

Mark Rogovin, a 64 year-old activist and muralist who has been a resident of Forest Park since 1985, co-wrote a booklet with deceased activist and writer Joe Powers titled, "The Day Will Come..." documenting the lives of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who chose to be buried around them. The book contains a map for a walking tour of the cemetery.

Rogovin learned the art of mural painting under the famed Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros; and helping to produce the artist's final mural, Rogovin moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute. He arrived just days after the 1968 Democratic National Convention. After graduating, he founded the Public Art Workshop in the Austin neighborhood. He also cofounded Chicago's Peace Museum in 1981.

He inherited his activist and artistic nature from his parents. His father, Milton Rogovin, was a celebrated documentary photographer who passed away on Jan. 18 at the age of 101.  His mother was a special education teacher. Both were activists and members of the Communist Party USA. The Buffalo Evening News in Buffalo, New York, proclaimed his father as the city's "Number One Red" in the late 1950's.

While this label made life difficult for the family, it did not deter them from their beliefs. Said Rogovin: "The things that my parents and other radicals worked for we were proud of as kids."

"The issues my parents were working on, issues of social security and health care and other issues, are things that we all enjoy today," said Rogovin. "It sounds like a joke, but the campaign for the eight-hour day is something that was started in 1886, and we're still struggling for people to work normal hours, or to not have children working in factories."

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When family friend and prominent Chicago labor leader Frank Lumpkin died in early 2010 at age 93, his ashes were interred in Forest Home. It was then that Rogovin decided that his book needed to be updated. The text of the current booklet will be expanded and accompanied by illustrations.

"Even the longest biographies can be a lot longer, so we have had to make it a concise document," Rogovin said. "And we hope it's very useful."

The project will even be taken into the 21st century with an addition of an online component to give it a potentially global reach.

"What's really interesting is that this history lives today. It's not just about something that happened in 1886," said Rogovin. "The campaigns that all these people were working on; some have been resolved, and some still need more energy and more bodies to win."

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While working on the updates to the booklet, Rogovin has uncovered new details about the cemetery. These details include the definitive burial site of the wife of anarchist labor activist August Spies, who was hanged in connection to the riot, and where the ashes of the son of Albert and Lucy Parsons are interred.

This effort is being done to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument on May 1. The Illinois Labor History Society will hold an event at the cemetery where they will restore the bronze laurel wreath that had been stolen from the historic memorial. The Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, based in Forest Park, is recreating the wreath.

Rogovin hopes that the project will create a renewed interest in the cemetery and help revitalize the Forest Park Historical Society, which he calls a "dormant organization"

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