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McHenry County

McHenry County Historical Society kicks off series with protest songs program

Photo provided
Bucky Halker in the midst of a large concretion park that dates to the 1950s, located in Phillips, Wisconsin.
Photo provided Bucky Halker in the midst of a large concretion park that dates to the 1950s, located in Phillips, Wisconsin.

UNION – Public protests about perceived loss of freedoms and equal rights is nothing new.

In the century that came after the Civil War, Illinois businesses made great gains, and the state emerged as a central player in the nation’s economy.

However, those gains were not spread equally across the population. Many workers believed that their wages, hours and working conditions were unfair and repeatedly protested to improve their situation.

Political action, unionization, public education, strikes and rallies were their tools, but nowhere was their voice more clear and artistic than in song and poetry. Illinois became the center of American working-class protest music, as coal miners, laborers, printers, iron workers, clothing workers and their allies penned songs and poems for various causes.

Join musician, author and cultural historian Bucky Halker at 3 p.m. March 6 at the McHenry County Historical Society for “Ain’t Got a Dollar: Illinois Workers and Protest Songs, 1865-1965.”

Halker, well-known for his music-history programs on Woody Guthrie and the Great Depression, will use a blend of performance, audience participation, commentary and discussion as he reviews a century of songs from Illinois workers.

Halker has a doctorate in U.S. labor history from the University of Minnesota, is a published author and has released several CDs.

Other programs in the series include:

• 7 p.m. March 20 – “The National Park Service at Age 100.” Norman Moline, an accomplished cultural geographer from Rock Island, offers highlights of National Park Service history and discusses many of its sites throughout the Midwest, including the Pullman State Historic Site in Chicago and Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield.

• 7 p.m. April 3 – “Rockford’s Camp Grant and World War I.” Terry Dyer, a recognized scholar and lecturer on Camp Grant, will discuss the 1917 origins of this massive National Army Training Center, named for Ulysses S. Grant, that operated until 1946. Dyer, a lifelong resident of northern Illinois, is the past state commander of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War and a member of John A. Logan Camp No. 26, the Gettysburg Foundation and the Rock River Civil War Round Table.

• 3 p.m. May 15 – “General Pershing and World War I.” Local historian and re-enactor Ed O’Brien will assume the guise of Gen. John L. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I and responsible for more than 2 million men. Pershing is the only American to be promoted in his own lifetime to General of the Armies, the highest possible rank in the Army. This remarkable soldier certainly is worth remembering as our nation marks the 100th anniversary of its entry into the war.

All programs are at the society museum, 6422 Main St. in Union. Tickets are available in the office, online or at the door. Series tickets are $35, or $30 for society members. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. The national parks program is made possible through a grant from Illinois Humanities. For information or to buy tickets, call 815-923-2267 or visit

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