Museum remembers Karen Silkwood
Next week marks the 34th anniversary of the untimely death of noted union whistleblower, and former Nederland resident, Karen Silkwood.
The Port Arthur Historical Society and Museum of the Gulf Coast will unveil a permanent exhibit honoring Silkwood in the Notable People Gallery, and screen the Academy Award-nominated film based on her story.
Museum Curator Lauren Ayers said the exhibit will feature photographs, a pair of boots and a handbag once owned by Silkwood, copies of the books “Who Killed Karen Silkwood?” by Howard Cohn and “The Killing of Karen Silkwood” by Richard Rashke; and a Ms. Magazine article about the late activist from 1975.
There’s also an incomplete application from a Los Alamos facility, filled out by Silkwood with her signature. Ayers said Silkwood’s mother Merle Silkwood, who still lives in Nederland in the house Karen grew up in, will attend the new exhibit’s unveiling on Nov. 16.
Karen was born in Longview in 1946, and raised in Nederland. After graduating high school, she studied medical technology at Lamar University and married William Meadows in 1965. The couple had three children. After divorcing Meadows in 1972, Karen got a job as a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plutonium fuels production plant in Crescent, Okla.
She soon became an active member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, where she was an advocate for plant safety. During the week prior to her death, she was reportedly gathering evidence for the union to support her claim that Kerr-McGee was negligent in maintaining plant safety, and at the same time, she herself was the victim of a number of unexplained exposures to plutonium.
On Nov. 13, 1974, Silkwood, 28, had an appointment with a union staff representative and a New York Times investigative reporter.
At this meeting, she was to provide documentation to the reporter, showing that her charges that Kerr-McGee had been negligent in quality control and had falsified records were justified. Silkwood was on her way to this meeting when she died in what seems to have been a one-car crash. The documents she was to have turned over to the reporter were never found.
Silkwood was buried in Danville Cemetery in Kilgore. Since her death, her story has achieved worldwide fame as the subject of many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and even a major motion picture. She is considered a martyr by labor union activists around the world. After her death, her estate filed a civil suit against Kerr-McGee for the alleged inadequate health and safety program that led to Silkwood’s exposure to plutonium. In 1986, the suit was headed for retrial when it was finally settled out of court for $1.3 million.
The museum will host a free film screening of the 1983 Academy Award-nominated motion picture “Silkwood” starring Meryl Streep at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, the public is invited to an induction ceremony and unveiling of a permanent exhibit honoring Silkwood in the Notable People Gallery.
A screening of the A&E documentary “Contaminated: The Karen Silkwood Story” will follow the unveiling.
For more information, go to www.museumofthegulfcoast.org or call 982-7000. The museum, at 700 Procter St. in downtown Port Arthur, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.