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The Knights of Labor (Continued)

December 2, 2009

“All movements which have had for their object the uplifting of humanity have been greatly helped by their poets. If it be true that the heart of a nation is dead when its songs are stilled, it is equally true that the vigor, the fervency of any great movement may be accurately measured by the earnestness of its poets and by the enthusiasm with which their songs are welcomed.” -A.W. Wright, editor of the Journal of the Knights of Labor (Foner, 161)

The Knights of Labor, one of the most influential union organizations of all time, was also one of the most musically minded groups as well, due to that fact that they believed that, “songs, ballads, and poems were important in educating workers on the key issues associated with the order.” (Foner, 146) In other words, this was an organization of truthfulness. The leaders wanted everyone involved to understand their rights as members, and also that they were equal to everyone else in the group. The International Workers of the World was the union most recognized for its song, but prior to their musical fame, the Knights of Labor led the revolution of protest through music. These songs were, for the most part, songs of strength, love, and unity. The organization used music to send a peaceful message such as, “Let each one strive in peace to work – No discord may we meet. May social love prevail, To give us harmony; That right may triumph over wrong, When labor shall be free.” (Foner, 146). As with many union organizations, not all of their songs were peaceful. Some railed against the boss and other officials, others mourned low wages, and a wide variety of other complaints. Song, however, simply by its nature, allows unsavory subjects to be delivered in an appropriate and non violent manner, so dispite the content, the tunes of the Nights of Labor were able to convay a message without physical harm to the participants.

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