The Loss of James Green
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The Boston Globe

James Green, 71, UMass Boston Labor Historian and Writer, Boston Globe Obituary, by Bryan Marquard

At the end of the 1960s, James Green studied at Yale University with renowned historian C. Vann Woodward, who encouraged students to write what the professor “called ‘history with a purpose,’’’ Dr. Green recalled. “For many of us, that meant writing in opposition to those who saw inequality as inevitable in American society. As Woodward once said, ‘The inevitable needed all the opposition it could get.’ ”

Accepting his mentor’s challenge, Dr. Green became a scholar, a writer, a historian, and more. “I don’t see myself as an activist, but as a participant,” he told the Globe in 2000.

He worked to protect affordable housing while living in the South End years ago, and for a time he wrote for the journal Radical America and other publications, including the Globe. He also traveled to Appalachia to advocate on behalf of coal miners and lend a hand to Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple as she made the video “Out of Darkness: The Mine Workers’ Story.”

While participating in unfolding events, he was a University of Massachusetts Boston professor, melding life in the field with teaching in the classroom. “There’s no break between what I do here and what I do outside,” he said in the Globe interview.

Dr. Green, a professor of history emeritus who wrote books about West Virginia coal miners and Chicago’s Haymarket Square bombing, died Thursday in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of complications from a bone marrow transplant that was part of his treatment for leukemia. He was 71 and lived in Somerville.

More than a decade ago, historian and writer Howard Zinn encouraged Dr. Green to branch out from journalism and academic articles and try his hand at book-length history. The result was “Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America,” published in 2006.

Bill Ayers, a retired University of Illinois Chicago education professor who formerly was a member of the Weather Underground, praised Dr. Green’s account of the 1886 Haymarket bombing, which resulted in the capture, trial, and conviction of labor activists, four of whom were hanged. Dr. Green “gives us both a compelling narrative of the Haymarket tragedy, and a layered understanding of its multiple meanings as they exploded out away from the event itself,” Ayers wrote in a review that is posted on his website, adding: “This is the best book ever written about the Haymarket.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File Dr. Green at Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe in 2001. Photo by: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File

In 2000, Dr. Green published “Taking History to Heart,” weaving autobiographical recollections into his recounting of labor events. “I tell a bit of my own story here, thinking back on my efforts to find a voice for telling movement stories in public – a voice I could use to reach movement activists and a wider audience of concerned citizens,” he wrote.

Last year, he published “The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom.”

“One of the most important things about him is the passion he had for bringing the stories of people who make our world work to the forefront and sharing them with everybody,” said his wife, Janet Grogan.

“That’s an academic way of putting it, but that’s also what he was like as a person,” she added. “He was always, ‘Who are you? What is your story?’ He connected with so many people. And he did it very easily as a teacher. His students just adored him.”

The oldest of four siblings, Dr. Green was born in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park and grew up in Carpentersville, Ill. His mother, the former Mary Kaye DiVall, worked part time in a school office. His father, Gerald Green, taught high school math and was a mason during summers. “He liked the masonry more, that was real clear,” Grogan said. “He was a good math teacher, but he did that for the security.”

One of Dr. Green’s grandfathers was a switchman in Chicago’s train yards and the other worked in a clothing factory.

“What his parents did for work and what his grandparents did for work really influenced him,” Grogan said. “He had people in his family who were doing the work he ended up writing about. And he also liked being in the kitchen with the women who were telling all the stories at the big gatherings.”

Dr. Green graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in 1966 and with a doctorate from Yale in 1972. He initially taught history at Brandeis University and was a visiting lecturer at Warwick University in England. In 1977, he joined the faculty at UMass Boston, where he was a professor at the College of Public and Community Service and director of the public history program. He also had been a lecturer for the Harvard Trade Union Program at Harvard Law School and a Fulbright senior lecturer at the University of Genoa in Italy.

As a writer, “he was very concerned about making everything accessible to general readers and telling stories that readers can relate to,” said Jim O’Brien, a former UMass Boston colleague who indexed Dr. Green’s books. “I immensely respected his ability to tell a story without shortchanging the analysis of what was going on: What was the industry, what was the political setting, what were the people like?’’

Dr. Green’s first marriage, to Carol McLaughlin, ended in divorce. Their daughter, Amanda, lives in Cambridge.

In 1988, he married Grogan, who was a lay advocate for the organization now known as Greater Boston Legal Services. They have a son, Nicholas, who lives in Somerville.

“He loved, loved, loved his children,” Grogan said of Dr. Green, who in 2000 spoke out at a May Day rally at the State House in favor of better wages for those in the home-care field. He noted in a Globe interview at the time that his daughter, who is disabled, “has been well-served by many home-care workers.”

Dr. Green also had mapped out what he called the Working Peoples’ Heritage Trail in Boston, which he said in 2001 was “not so much a labor history as a people’s history.”

In addition to his wife, daughter, and son; his mother, of Cambridge; and his former wife, Dr. Green leaves two sisters, Mary Beth Kress of Arlington and Nancy Herbert of Makanda, Ill., and a brother, Mark of Longmont, Colo.

An open house will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday in Dr. Green’s Somerville home. A larger, public memorial gathering will be announced later in the year.

Though his life was filled with conversation and travel, Dr. Green “was a very gentle, quiet soul,” Grogan said.

“I think one of the proofs of who he was as a person was how adored he was by his nurses. He said it was his last chance to be a ladies’ man, and they loved him,” she said. “He always appreciated what they did, and he was grateful.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at


The Loss of Dr. James (Jim) Green, by Bill Fletcher

This is one of the most difficult commentaries i have had to write in some time.

Yesterday i was sitting at a restaurant and noticed that i had received an email from a good friend.  She indicated that our mutual friend, former UMASS-Boston professor and labor historian extraordinaire, Jim Green had passed away.  I was stunned.  I knew that Jim had been ill for quite some time, battling cancer, but i had just received an email from him a couple of months prior indicating that he and his wife, Janet, would be in Washington, DC and hoped to visit with me and my wife.  There were no indications in that email that this was a farewell.

Jim Green was one of the nicest human beings i have ever met.  He was generous to a fault.  He was a brilliant labor historian who demonstrated, time and again, his deep commitment to the working class and was an outstanding champion of racial and gender justice.  He inspired his students to both learn more but also to become active.  And he was a tremendous mentor.

Jim was able to live long enough to see his outstanding book,  The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, brought to television in the form of a compelling PBS documentary.  His book about the Haymarket bombing and repression, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Americaread like a novel.  Jim was able to bring history to life, drawing the reader in and making one feel as if one were part of the actual events.

Jim had a special importance to me.  I first met him in the early 1980s.  I actually do not remember where, though i believe that it was at a conference.  However, it was in 1982 that my friendship with Jim actually began.  I had created a class on Black worker history that i wanted to teach.  A friend of mine, Nancy Mills (the then Executive Director of Local 285, Service Employees International Union in Boston, MA) informed me that Local 285 had an arrangement with UMASS-Boston whereby if the local union provided instructors, local union members could take classes there at a reduced rate.  She suggested that i take my idea for the Black worker history class and discuss the matter with Jim Green.

Jim was more than enthusiastic.  He helped to make it possible and in so doing, started me on a road to teaching (as one of my directions in life).  My class, taught at UMASS for nearly 8 years, was always well-enrolled, and Jim encouraged me to teach other classes at the school as well.

My wife said to me, yesterday upon hearing of Jim’s passing, that “Jim believed in you.”  I thought about that and realized how correct she was.  He saw something in me and encouraged it.  We did not always agree; we did not have to.  There was a level of mutual respect between us that created an ironclad bond.  But there was something more.  He always wanted me to continue on and be what i needed to be.

I have come across many people who have been touched by Jim Green.  We have similar stories.  There was something about the guy who, when he believed in you, would go to the wall on your behalf.  At the same time, as nice a person as was Jim, he could see through opportunism and insincerity in the blink of an eye.

It is frequently said about great people that they are irreplaceable.  In fact, the reference has become a cliche.  Yet, i will use that term today because i can think of none other to describe the impact of the loss of Jim Green.  There was so much good about the man combined with his commitment to building a socially transformative movement, that it is truly difficult for me to imagine ever meeting someone like him again…

…Except I will.  Those who have been touched by Jim; those who have been his students, all have a bit of Jim in them.   Those who have read his books and felt the passion and depth of his stories emerge from the pages, they will have some of Jim in them.

Quite a legacy for such a wonderful friend and comrade.  Jim Green, you will be truly missed.

From the Boston Globe:

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