John L. Lewis
In 1911 Lewis began organizing for the American Federation of Labor[?] (AFL[?]) full time. By 1917 he had been elected president of the UMWA. Lewis quickly asserted himself as a dominant figure in what was then the largest and most influential union in the country.
A powerful speaker and strategist, Lewis used the nation's dependance on coal to increase the wages and improve the safety of miners, even during several severe recessions. He masterminded a five-month strike, ensuring that the increase in wages gained during World War I would not be lost.
In 1938 Lewis was elected president of the fledgling Congress of Industrial Organizations[?] (CIO). Millions of workers came to regard Lewis as a champion of laboring men and women, and were inspired by his oratorical skills and willingness to make bold demands on corporations.
Lewis emerging from the Orient No. 2 mine
in West Frankfort, Illinois after viewing the
devastation of a mine explosion that
killed 119 miners in December 1951.
In the 1950s, Lewis won periodic wage and benefit increases for miners and led the campaign for the first Federal Mine Safety Act[?] in 1952. Lewis retired as president of the UMWA in 1960 and died at his home in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I have pleaded (labor's) case, not in the quavering tones of a feeble mendicant asking alms, but in the thundering voice of the captain of a mighty host, demanding the rights to which free men are entitled."