Frick Park Should Be Renamed to Honor Labor Activist Anne Feeney

Anne Fenney playing on the back of a pickup truck for striking workers in Decatur, Illinois in 1995. (Dexter Arnold)

Thanks to Payday’s partnership with Pittsburgh’s “Print” newspaper, Payday’s call to rename Frick Park after the late folk singer and activist Anne Feeney can be found in two dozen grocery stores and markets throughout the city. 

Several thousand subscribers in Pittsburgh’s East End communities can pick up the weekly print newspaper that was founded by Ann Besler, a former labor reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. You can also get Print delivered to your mailbox through a yearly subscription.

Sign up to become a subscriber to Print here. 

Frick Park Should Be Renamed to Honor Labor Activist Anne Feeney Park

By Mike Elk

As the owner of a crowd-funded labor publication, Payday Report, I found myself confronted with a rough dilemma when I attempted to host our first annual Labor Day barbecue in Pittsburgh. The park where we were holding the event is named after Henry Clay Frick. 

Frank Goldsmith, 78, who rode with the old members of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), including Ernie DeMaio, during some of the ugliest days of McCarthyism and is a close advisor of Payday Report, emailed me to express concern that we were advertising the event as being hosted at “Frick Park”. Frank, a native of Johnstown, despises Frick, who was responsible for over 2,000 deaths in the 1889 Johnstown Flood. Additionally, Frick hired the gun thugs who later killed 7 strikers during the Battle of Homestead. 

Let’s just say that for a labor publication to host an event at a park that honors a mass murderer like Frick isn’t exactly a good look. 

This led me to wonder who the park should honor. 

Then, I saw Anne Feeney’s obituary in the Washington Post. There was a beautiful photo of Anne in the woods at Frick Park. It was clear to me that the park should be called “Anne Feeney Park”. 

As a kid growing up in an UE family, near where the old Switch & Signal factory was in Swissvale, Anne was a constant presence in my life at union barbecues. 

I spent a lot of time with Anne.

In 2013, when she was on her first tour post-cancer recovery, she invited me to travel with her crew in an RV and I have a lot of great stories about her love of the road, and how she was broke throughout the trip and had to pass the hat. 

Despite performing more than 4,000 shows in her lifetime and spreading the union message (often playing for just $250 a show), Anne was a never commercial success.

As a child, I went to so many rallies where Anne would really pick up the spirits of workers in tough fights. Her music was dancey, kinda honky-tonk, and Anne knew how to get a crowd going. The UE would book her for all its rallies and I still know all the words because she could get a crowd of 1,000 blue-collar guys singing anti-capitalist songs. 

Katharine Greider told me that when her father Bill Greider was dying, he had this vivid drugged up hallucination that he was at a big union barbecue. I’d love to think that somewhere Anne, Bill and so many brothers and sisters are singing songs hanging out at a great barbecue. And I can think of no better way to honor someone who played so many union barbecues than to rename the park after Anne 

Anne was a yinzer’s yinzer, who represented the best traditions of this city and the park should be named for her. So from now on, when you send out invites for picnics, just call it “Anne Feeney Park.” 

Donate to Help Us Keep the Old UE Spirit Alive in Pittsburgh’s East End

Print can be picked up at Giant Eagles all over the East End, including: Greenfield, Penn Hill, Market District on Centre Ave., and the Shakespeare Street Giant Eagle in East Liberty, the Squirrel Hill Giant, the Penn Hills Giant Eagle on Verona Ave., the Baum Blvd Get Go, and the Murray Ave Get Go. 

Additionally Print can be picked up at the following gas stations:

  • William Penn Smoke Shop
    32 N. Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
  • L A Grocer
    511 Larimer Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206 
  • POINT BREEZE Frick Park Market
    7103 Reynolds St, Pittsburgh, PA 15208 
  • Fuel On Convenience Store
    5724 Ellsworth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15232   
  • Classic Lines
    5825 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 
  • Discount Tobacco & News
    1929 Murray Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
  • Five Points Artisan Bakeshop
    6520 Wilkins Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 
  • Squirrel Hill Newsstand
    5804 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 
  • Food Shoppe
    5878 Northumberland St, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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