By John Rice
Visitors flock to the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument, but there's a slight problem: no place to sit. So Ted and Kathy Pearson have commissioned a bench, where visitors can sit and gaze at the monument. The dark granite bench will face the monument from across the cemetery road. The back of the bench is inscribed with these words, "Sit and Hear the Voices for Peace, Justice and Freedom." Ted and Kathy have been fighting for these causes their entire lives.
They also have a longtime tradition of making pilgrimages to Forest Home Cemetery to place red carnations on the monument and the graves of other radicals. They began this May Day tradition after the birth of their first son in 1966. When their second son was born, he was also brought to this historic place to honor the graves of progressives.
For Ted, the progressive movement is part of his DNA. His mother, Beatrice, was a civil rights leader in Louisville, Kentucky. Authorities accused her of being a communist. Fearing an indictment and possible imprisonment, Beatrice and her family fled to Chicago.
Ted arrived in the South Chicago neighborhood in 1954. He graduated from the University of Chicago High School and enrolled in the university. He earned a physics degree but, more importantly, met Kathy, a math major who got in on the ground floor of computer programming.
Ted went to work for the movement right after graduation. He was already a member of the Communist Party and became a reporter for a communist newspaper, then went on to become a full-time organizer, while holding a part-time job at the radical Modern Bookstore in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Kathy enjoyed a successful career working on information systems. She retired from Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Ted shows no signs of retiring. He works for the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, founded in 1973. The organization's current cause is exonerating wrongfully accused criminals, focusing on inmates who were tortured into giving confessions. The organization's first chairperson, Angela Davis, is coming to Chicago for a rally to call attention to wrongful convictions.
Davis is a longtime member of the progressive movement, as is Forest Park's own Mark Rogovin. Ted met Mark in the '70s when Mark was a muralist at the Public Art Workshop in Chicago. Ted knows "everyone in the movement because, unfortunately, there is only a small number of people involved." Mark directed him to the Peter Troost Monument Co. for the cemetery bench.
Ted and Kathy got the idea for the bench, when they were strolling through Vander Veer Botanical Park, in Davenport, Iowa. They were struck by the benches donated by local residents and thought a bench would be a welcome gift for visitors to Radical Row. Chris Lee, an artist and designer for Troost, found the bench in the company's catalogue. It is "Galaxy Black," containing pieces of quartz that give it a subtle sparkle.
Troost was hoping to install the bench in time for the April 29 celebration at the cemetery. But April's freakish cold caused a setback in laying the foundation. They're hoping to install it sometime in May.
Ted and Kathy don't want any fanfare. They just want to give visitors a quiet place to rest. If those visitors want to learn more about the monument, the bench will feature a weatherproof box containing fliers for Mark's book, The Day Will Come: Honoring Our Working Class Heroes.
So the next time you visit Radical Row, you can thank Ted and Kathy for taking a load off your feet.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com