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Eugene Debs Speaker

Eugene Debs left Woodstock in November 1895, after his release from the McHenry County Jail, but his legacy and fight for free speech has not been forgotten.

On Tuesday, April 25, Woodstock Celebrates, Inc., the McHenry County Historical Society and the Illinois Labor History Society will co-host a program exploring Debs’ fight for civil liberties during World War I. The 7 p.m. program features author Ernest Freeberg, a distinguished professor of humanities at the University of Tennessee. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

“Debs was a part of Woodstock’s history, and his fight for free speech still echoes throughout America and the world,” said Kathleen Spaltro, program chairwoman for Woodstock Celebrates “It’s important not to lose this connection to history, especially when Debs’ right to protest is very much in tune with current concerns.”

Debs was president of the American Railway Union (ARU) in 1895 when he was imprisoned in the McHenry County Jail in Woodstock for six months for disobeying a court injunction that sought to end a strike against George Pullman’s massive factory and company town in Chicago. In support of Pullman workers – who had suffered from wage cuts and higher rents, as well as food costs during the recession of 1893 – ARU workers refused to handle Pullman sleeper cars on passenger trains.

While jailed in Woodstock, Debs grew increasingly cynical about capitalism and came to embrace the labor movement as a type of class warfare. He later became a major leader of American Socialism. For speaking against the U.S. decision to join the fighting in Europe during World War I, Debs was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.

Freeberg will explore the fight for civil liberties by those who worked to free Debs from prison and the fundamental questions it raised about the balance between individual liberty and national security. Freeberg’s lecture is drawn from his award-winning book, “Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, The Great War, and the Right to Dissent.”

Admission to the April 25 program is $10, payable at the door. For more information, call MCHS at 815-923-2267 or visit


Tuesday, April 25 from 6:30 pm to 8 pm




McHenry County Historical Society & Museum, Main Street, Union, IL, United States

Eugene Debs Speaker
McHenry County Historical Society & Museum, Main Street, Union, IL, United States


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