BLACK HISTORY MONTH LESSON PLAN: Jacqueline B. Vaughn was the most powerful labor union leader in Illinois by the beginning of the 1990s -- and the most influential woman in Chicago... Why was her memory whited out after her 1994 death?

When the funeral ended, the sound of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" resounded through the historic church on Chicago's South Side, and the final march of Jacqueline B. Vaughn took place as she exited the church where more than a thousand had assembled for her funeral. It was January 1994. And for some, the sound of the song brought to mind the union song "Solidarity Forever" which she had led so many times.

By the time the Chicago Teachers Union was forced into its longest strike in history (19 school days) in September 1987, some were surprised. At the time, Harold Washington was Mayor of Chicago, and Manford Byrd was Superintendent of Chicago's public schools. Many thought that with three Black leaders leading a school system with a majority of Black children (and almost a majority of Black people among its workers) things would be worked out. But Harold Washington had forced the Chicago Teachers Union out on strike in 1983, 1984, and 1985 and whatever the sentimental version of his previous history, as mayor he did the bidding of those who called the financial shots and worked to force back the gains that had been made over 20 years by the strongest union in Illinois, the Chicago Teachers Union.By the time of her death in January 1994, Jackie Vaughn had led more days of strike, either indirectly (in 1983) or directly (in 1984, 1985, and 1987) than any union leaders in the United States of America during the years after President Ronald Reagan had supposedly busted the nation's unions by his attack on PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, in 1982. Apparently, nobody told Jackie Vaughn that unions couldn't strike following the legendary union busting move of Reagan's presidency. But her successor barely blushed when he picked up the cry, warning union members that unions should stop using the "S" word and live with the realities of the 1990s and beyond.

Within four years of Mrs. Vaughn's death, the White Out of her memory in official Chicago had taken an almost ludicrous turn. Instead of even noticing that Jackie Vaughn had existed, the Chicago Sun-Times, in its "Black History Month" features, placed the fraud Marva Collins, whose private school on Chicago's West Side had provided the script for subsequent attacks on the city's (and nation's) real public schools with a series of one-liners widely publicized by Wall Street and Hollywood. Until her claims were proved to be a hoax by Substance by the mid 1980s. But by the mid-1990s, the hoaxes and frauds of corporate "school reform" were taking center stage, and part of their methodology was to provide children with an official version of history -- a version of history that had no place for a powerful woman who had led a militant labor union. Unions, the official version of reality told it, had been defeated decisively by President Ronald Reagan, once himself the anti-Communist leader of a union (the Screen Actors Guild).

And so as the 1990s progressed, myths and outright frauds became "history" while leaders like Jackie Vaughn were almost wiped out of the history.

There is some record, but not much outside the offices of the Chicago Teachers Union. "For nearly a decade, Mrs. Vaughn kept her hold on the union's helm with the no-nonsense way in which she negotiated contract deals for the union's 31,000 members," reporter Jacqueline Heard wrote in the Chicago Tribune the day after Mrs. Vaughn's death.

But if it is possible to learn a few things about the life of Jacqueline B. Vaughn, the attempt by a child in 2014 to learn much would be stifled and thwarted. There is not even, in 2014, a Wikipedia entry on Mrs. Vaugh. And since most children "researching" history today (including my own young sons) begin and often end their work in Wikipedia, the white out is significant.

"Mrs. Vaughn's leadership through the tenure of four Chicago mayors and five school superintendents managed to get raises for teachers even when school money was tight," Ms. Heard wrote upon Mrs. Vaughn's death. "Her consistent wins at the negotiating table drew criticism from some who said she was more interested in satisfying adult greed than meeting the needs of the district's 411,000 students."

Of course, at time went on, Jacqueline Heard couldn't report that some of the most vicious attacks on Mrs. Vaughn came from the Tribune's City Hall reporter, later a major pundit, John Kass. From the day Kass crossed the Tribune union picket lines, his shrill right wing tirades grew. By the time Jackie Vauhn died, the Tribune's columns and editorials were under full-scale attack on the powers of the Chicago Teachers Union behind the smokescreen called "school reform." Kass's pseudo-working class pretensions (he was actually son of a small businessman on Chicago's South Side) gave some the impression that Kass was truly the reincarnation of the man who held the same page in the paper, Mike Royko. But Kass was no Royko -- only a Royko wannabe whose attacks on organized working people, and their unions, reached its apogee when he crossed the Tribune picket lines.

"Her unyielding tenacity drew cult-like adoration from union members," Heard wrote. "Above all, Mrs. Vaughn was a fighter..."

Jackie Vaughn was all-Chicago and all Chicago Public Schools, even before she became a union leader. She graduated from Morgan Park High School and Chicago Teachers College with a master's degree in special education. Unlike some who followed, Jacqueline Vaughn always respected the hard work of training teachers that was done at Chicago Teachers College. And she would never have tolerated anyone who claimed, as current corporate propagandists do in 2014, that what urban schools need is a dose of the "best and the brightest" affluent white people from Ivy League colleges -- as Teach for America has been doing.

Jackie Vaughn became a Chicago Public School teacher in 1956. She first at the now-defunct Maudie Boosfield School and later at Einstein Elementary, where she headed the special education department.

Mrs. Vaughn became part of the union's 800-member House of Delegates in 1957. She remained a delegate until 1961, when she was hired to be a union field representative. In 1968, Mrs. Vaughn was elected CTU recording secretary. In 1972, with the formation of the United Progressive Caucus, she become vice president in the same election that brought Robert Healey to the union's presidency.

During the years of Healey's presidency, Vaughn helped organize and lead strikes, and to bargain the contracts that become a model not only in Chicago, but for other urban unions across the USA.

By the time of the 13-day strike in October 1983, Vaughn became a major spokesman for the union. During that strike, then schools Supt. Ruth B. Love tried to play the "race card" against the union, even though the union was completely integrated from top to bottom. But since the leader of the union was a tall white man -- Robert M. Healey -- Love and her advisors believed she could play the race game by talking about the needs of the children and implying that the "white" union didn't care about the children of Chicago.

Thanks to the fact that the union has integrated over the past quarter century from "top" (the officer and downtown staff) to the "bottom" (the rank and file teachers and career service workers in the schools), Ruth Love's race games didn't build the popular opposition she had hoped to muster. Finally, during the strike's second week, Love played an even bigger card. She announced that "for the sake of the children" she would open three schools so that graduating seniors could sign up for their college exams and meet for counseling. Even though the counselors were on strike, Love announced she was going to visit three schools, cross the picket lines with those who cared about the children, and begin the process of serving those who needed her services.

The following morning, Love arrived at Piccolo school to be greeted by more than 1,000 angry pickets. Love thought she would be able to pose the TV visual as white union teachers versus a Black schools chief. But it didn't work out that way. Thanks to the leadership of the union, including Jackie Vaughn, Love was greeted by an angry -- and completely integrated -- picket line. By the time she left Piccolo, Love was clearly shaken (and her limousine "keyed"), but she moved on to the next publicity stunt -- the second of the day. At Whitney Young Magnet High School, Love was greeted by more than 2,000 pickets, who filled Jackson Blvd. between the two Whitney Young buildings.

Love's final stop at the end of the day was Dickson school on the far south side. The throng of pickets was the greatest of the day. And in the face of a picket line that included more Black teachers than whites, Love lost it. She told TV news that the pickets had tried to use vicious dogs against her, and compared her treatment with the treatment of civil rights marchers in Birmingham Alabama 20 years earlier.

Had the TV news crews only allowed themselves to be penned inside the building, with only Ruth Love's version of reality to go on, the "Bull Connor's Attack Dogs" script might have worked. But the reporters had been outside, and had photographs of the pickets, most of whom were Black women. By the end of the ten o'clock news that night Love was a laughing stock, and the attempt to play the race card against the Chicago Teachers Union had broken amid laughter across the city. The following summer, Love demanded an early renewal of her contract as superintendent, and the Board of Education turned down her demand.

After being re-elected with Healey in May 1984, Mrs. Vaughn became union president after Healey left the CTU to become President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

By the 1984 union election, the union's rank and file had hoped that things would be better, as the Mayor of Chicago was Harold Washington, who had been elected with the massive support of teachers across the city (and not only on the West Side and South Side, as this reporter can attest, from where he was teaching -- at Steinmetz High School -- in 1983 when Harold was first elected). Whatever the hopes, the reality was that Harold Washington forced Jackie Vaughn to lead three strikes in four years, in 1984, 1985, and 1987. By the time the 1987 strike had been won by the union, with the preservation of union seniority rights, pay and benefits, both the CTU and its president had become a model of militancy for many. Meanwhile, the official narrative of the nation's rulers was that strikes had been broken by Ronald Reagan and that unions should retreat and give up their rights.



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