The loss of Dr. James (Jim) Green

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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