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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

Knights of Labor




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Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

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In October 1878 Charles Litchman, Grand Scribe of the newly organized Knights of Labor, traveled to the thriving labor center of Detroit and selected Jo Labadie to form the first cell of the Knights of Labor in Michigan. The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights preferred to keep its identity obscured, for its mission to organize all laboring men (including the unskilled and blacks) into a secret federation was certain to arouse intense hostility from business leaders. Attractive, bluff, gregarious, and a ready speaker, Labadie was a splendid choice for the incipient organization whose ideals of brotherhood and justice inflamed the tenor of his life.

It was due to Labadie's zeal that the Knights of Labor grew to a significant force in Michigan. Although he strongly opposed the policy of secrecy, as well as the mystical ceremonies, he may have enjoyed disguising his first group by naming it "The Washington Literary Society." Traveling through the state, Labadie oversaw the formation of Knights of Labor groups elsewhere. By 1887, his Detroit District Assembly 50 [DA 50] numbered some 10,000 workers of both sexes and many nationalities, more than a third of the local work force.