This exhibit features the stories and images behind six large illustrated brass plaques about the history of labor in Union Square, installed in the southeast corner of the square.
Union Square was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, in recognition of the site’s importance for over 150 years as a public space for labor. The designation plaque (located in the plaza at the south end of the square) reads:
This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.
Here workers exercised their rights to free speech and assembly and on September 5, 1882, observed the first Labor Day.
A celebration of this historic designation – including a reenactment of the first Labor Day parade - was held in September 1998.
The history that led to the landmark designation is depicted in part in the brass plaques illustrated in this exhibit, which were installed in the fall of 2002.
These plaques honor the history of Union Square as a home of labor, and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, a union that played a significant part in that history.
Commissioned by UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees), and designed by the artist Gregg Lefevre, each plaque represents a part of the story of why Union Square and its environs is important in the history of the United States. The six plaques are each shown here accompanied by the historical images that inspired the design, and by other related historical images and labor artwork that illuminate this past.
A celebration of these six plaques and of the life of Debra E. Bernhardt, who led the effort to designate the square as a historic labor site, was held on May 9, 2003.