--from the New York Times Magazine, June 28, 1970

This headline appeared over a New York Times Magazine cover story written by Richard Rogin, and published June 28, 1970. The article focused on elevator constructor Joe Kelly of Staten Island, a "well-liked, skillful mechanic" who participated in the "hardhat demonstrations" of May 8 and May 20, 1970. Rogin interviewed Kelly at his World Trade Center worksite, where men from all regions of the United States were building the world's tallest towers.

With the exception of brief quotations in the daily press, we are left with no direct testimony from construction workers who participated in the clashes on Wall Street in 1970. Rogin's portrait of Joe Kelly offers a rare and compelling glimpse into the thinking of those men -- so compelling, in fact, that, the piece was republished in Overcoming Middle Class Rage, collection of sociological essays edited by Murray Friedman; and A History of Our Time, a popular collection of documents edited by historians William Chafe and Harvard Sitkoff.

 

 

 

?

How representative was Joe Kelly of construction workers?

Of the "blue-collar worker" generally?

Why and how was he selected for the article?

How did the writing and editing of the article shape the themes that emerged?

 

 

 

The New York Times Magazine caption accompanying this photo read: Joe Kelly in front of his new, $40,000 two-family home on Staten Island with his wife Karen and their three small children...He is beginning to earn $15,000- 18,000 a year and says: "No one's more Establishment than I am."

The words of Joe Kelly and author Richard Rogin:

"Others called the workers bullies or Nazi brownshirts. 'We have no control over what they want to call us,' says Joe Kelly. 'But I think that the large majority of people, going as high as 85 to 90 percent, are more than happy. Not so much for the violence but for the stand we took. And now they're standing up. The construction worker is only an image that's being used. The hard hat is being used to represent all of the silent majority."

"Joe Kelley never thought the picture presented by his hardworking life would need any defense. There is his pretty blonde wife, Karen; two strawberry-blonde daughters, Robin Lynn, four, and Kerry Ann, one and a half, and now a newborn son, James Patrick...There is also a collie named Missy and a newly bought brick-and-shingle, two-story, $40,000 house on an irregular 50 by 100 foot lot, tastefully furnished, with a modern kitchen, and a freshly sodded lawn on one of those breezy Staten Island streets...

"Joe Kelly and his neighbors, the steamfitter, the bus driver, the policeman, the TV color processor, have worked too hard to get to that street to give it all up. They have had too many peace protests, too many moratoriums, too many harsh laments and shouted obscenities against their country, too many rock throwings and strikes and fires on campuses where they want their children to make it, too many bombings and too many Vietcong flags waving down the streets of their city, too many long haired youths and naked boys and girls, too many drugs, too much un-Americanism, not to feel angry and resentful."

Letters to the editor responding to "Joe Kelly Has Reached His Boiling Point":

To the editor:
It seems to me that Richard Rogin's article is slightly condescending in implying that Kelly and the 'hardhats' are nice guys but may not be too bright. My wife (Phi Beta Kappa) and I (summa cum laude and law school with honors) feel the same way about flag and country that Joe Kelly does-and so do most of our friends.
Having read, studied, and traveled widely, we believe that the United States, with all its faults, is still the best country in which to live. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: 'American society is the worst form of society except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Robert S. Miller, Old Bridge, N.J.

To the editor:
It is time we stopped making the hardhats into a kind of folk hero. There may be much to sympathize with but very little to admire in these men. It is no coincidence that theirs is among the most racist and racket-ridden of unions. In any other free society we would see them for what they are-thugs and bullies, a dreadful danger to the society, and a dreadful indictment of it, that it should have raised such citizens.

One of these men said to a Times reporter a few weeks ago that whatever we might think about the war, we were one country with one leader and we had to back him all the way. I have heard that song before, and not so long ago-"Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer!-one people, one state, one leader. Whether it speaks German, or English, that voice is the voice of Fascism. It is time we learned to know it, to fear it, and above all, to resist it.

John Holt, Boston


To the Editor:

STAND FAST, MEN!

I salute the Joe Kellys in their fight
To make sure our flag gets treated right
Oh, this road is hard, and mighty lonely
For a gallant band supported only
by
The Army, Navy, and Marines
Half the population of Queens
Nixon, Agnew, and of course
New York's entire police force.

Edna Toney, Katonah, N.Y.