As of Monday, the working people of Minnesota — bricklayers, nurses, tailors, miners, carpenters and more — will have a place of honor on the State Capitol grounds.
The finishing feature of the six-year-old Minnesota Workers Memorial Garden, across Cedar Avenue from the Centennial Building, is due for dedication at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day. A colorful stone collage designed by St. Paul muralist Craig David now adorns the south face of the garden’s wall, along with words reminding visitors of sacrifices working people made to build Minnesota.
The mural depicts unnamed workers of both genders, all races and many occupations, in a design that artist David hopes will allow many visitors to feel a connection. A few real people are portrayed. Labor and civil rights activist Nellie Stone Johnson is included, as are Drs. William and Charles Mayo and their pioneering nurse anesthetist, Alice Magaw. Mentioned alongside the mural will be four workplace disasters that caused significant loss of life — the 1878 explosion of the Washburn A Mill in Minneapolis, the 1894 Hinckley forest fire, the 1924 Milford Mine flood and the 1975 shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
We like to think that one of the mural’s lathers is David Roe, president emeritus of the state AFL-CIO. Roe, who rose to leadership in the lathers’ union, first envisioned a lasting memorial to Minnesota workers 30 years ago, and he has doggedly pursued the idea ever since. He persevered through gubernatorial vetoes, state budget crises and assorted setbacks, finally persuading the 2014 Legislature to provide $200,000 to push the project over the finish line. Roe, 91, was on hand earlier this month to set the mural’s last stones in place. Monday’s ceremony will be a salute to all workers — and to the difference one champion for workers has made.