HIGH TREASON The Plot Against the People, Albert E. Kahn — BOOK 3 — THE WAR WITHIN: 9 Force and Violence — 5 “Lest We Forget” eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

South Chicago, May 30 1937

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Chapter IX 5  “Lest We Forget”

The date was May 30, 1937, Memorial Day, the national holiday in honor of American soldiers fallen in battle. The place was a large open field adjoining the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago.

By mid-afternoon, almost a thousand men, women and children had gathered at one end of the field. They were striking Republic Steel workers and their families, workers from other industries, friends and sympathizers. They had come to parade past the Republic Steel factory as a demonstration to protest the company’s anti-labor policies.

“I won’t have a contract, verbal or written,” Tom Girdler, the truculent round-faced president of Republic Steel, had declared, “with an irresponsible, racketeering, communistic body like the CIO.”

Republic Steel was the only major steel corporation which was still unorganized by the CIO.

It was a pleasant warm Sunday, and a gay spirit prevailed among the demonstrators. Waiting for the march to begin, they congregated in small groups, chatting animatedly, laughing, and singing, the women wearing light summer dresses and most of the men in shirtsleeves. In the middle of the crowd two American flags flapped indolently in the slight breeze.

There was one seemingly incongruous note to the scene. Midway across the field, between the demonstrators and the Republic Steel plant, stood several hundred uniformed policemen with riot clubs hanging from their hands. Most of the police officers were loosely grouped in rows stretching across a dirt road that traversed the field. Behind these rows were clusters of reinforcements and a number of patrol wagons . . .

Shortly after four o’clock, about three hundred of the demonstrators started to parade down the dirt road and across the field, in a long straggling line led by two men carrying American flags. The marchers chanted slogans as they came and held up banners and placards reading Join the CIO, Republic vs. the People, and Republic Steel Violates the Labor Act.

Halfway across the field, their way barred by the police, the marchers slowed to a halt. A young man standing between the two flag bearers began urging some of the police officials to allow the parade to continue. The paraders closed up, forming a crowd around the young man, listening intently to his words.

Several of the demonstrators called out that they had been given a municipal permit to march. The police, they said, had no right to interfere with the parade.

The police stirred nervously, hitching up their belts, fingering their riot clubs.

An ominous tension had settled over the field.

Suddenly, without warning, acting as if by some prearranged signal, a number of police drew back their arms and hurled tear gas bombs into the crowd. At the same instant, with terrifying unexpectedness, a volley of pistol shots rang out.

Dozens of men and women among the demonstrators plunged to the ground. The remainder of the crowd, aghast and panic-stricken, scattered in headlong flight. After them charged the police, savagely flailing the fugitives with clubs.

Amid the intermittent crackle of pistol shots and the screams of the injured, one person after another was cornered and clubbed to the ground. Groups of policemen stood over fallen victims hammering them with riot sticks. Men and women with bloodstained faces staggered drunkenly across the field, desperately striving to elude the clubs of their pursuers.

News37Such was the beginning of the Memorial Day massacre.

A Reverend Charles B. Fiske who had come to the demonstration as an observer for a group of Chicago ministers investigating violations of civil liberties, and who had with him a motion picture camera, subsequently related:

I got my camera up to my eyes and I could see where the tear gas was breaking out near the crowd, and I could see the people at the very head of the column go down, dozens and scores of them falling to the ground . . .

I noticed, out of the corner of my left eye, a young fellow standing thirty or forty feet behind me … He was standing still for a time and then he dropped. I took pictures of him lying with his face on the ground. I could tell he had been shot by the bloodstains on the back of his shirt . . .

Very close to me, not more than forty yards away, I saw two policemen chasing one young fellow, who was running as fast as he could go, and shouting over his shoulder, “I’m going, I’m going, I’m doing what you told me to. I’m going as fast as I can.” He . . . stumbled and these two policemen coming up on him simultaneously struck him down behind a little clump of bushes and then stood there for a couple of minutes slugging him. I have pictures of them standing over him, hitting him with their clubs five or six times after he was down and apparently unconscious . . .

Another witness of the Memorial Day massacre was Mrs. Lupe Marshall, a social worker associated with Hull House in Chicago. Mrs. Marshall, who was trapped in the melee when the police charged the demonstrators, was clubbed to the ground and then flung into a patrol wagon.

She later stated:

When the policemen started to pick up those men that had been lying approximately where I had been standing when the thing started, they started bringing them in by their feet and hands, half dragging them and half picking them up. None of the men that were in the wagon were able to sit up. They [the police] piled them up one on top of the other. There were some men that had their heads underneath others. Some had their arms all twisted up, and their legs all twisted . . .

Describing the nightmarish ride to the hospital, Mrs. Marshall related: “It was ages before we got there, and every time the patrol wagon jolted, these men would go up about a foot or so, and fall on top of each other, and there was the most terrible screaming, groaning and going on in that wagon . . .”

When the patrol wagon reached the hospital, the policemen dragged the wounded and unconscious out of the vehicle, hauled them into the building by their hands and feet, and dropped them roughly on the floor. A detective, suddenly appearing on the scene, pointed toward the bodies, and shouted angrily at the policemen, “Who the hell ordered this goddam shooting?” One of the policemen replied, “Shut your mug!” Jerking his thumb toward Mrs. Marshall, he added, “They’re not all dead yet.”

By far the most horrifying record of the Memorial Day Massacre was contained in a Paramount newsreel of the entire episode. The film was never exhibited publicly; Paramount executives said that public showing might lead to “riots.”

A few days after the film was developed, it was privately shown to a small audience composed of Senator Robert M. La Follette Jr., Senator Elbert D. Thomas and a few staff members of the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee.

An extraordinary account of this private showing of the film subsequently appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The following are excerpts from the Post-Dispatch article:

. . . suddenly, without apparent warning, there is a terrific roar of pistol shots, and men in the front ranks of the marchers go down like grass before a scythe . . . Instantly the police charge on the marchers with riot sticks flying . . .

In a manner that is appallingly businesslike, groups of policemen close in on isolated individuals, and go to work on them with their clubs. In several instances, from two to four policemen are seen beating one man. One strikes him across the face, using his club as he would wield a baseball bat. Another crashes it down on the top of his head, and still another is whipping him across the back.

CIO officers report that when one of the victims was delivered at an undertaking establishment, it was found that his brains literally had been beaten out, his skull crushed by blows . . .

The account continued:

A man shot through the back is paralyzed from the waist. Two policemen try to make him stand up, to get him into a patrol wagon, but when they let him go his legs crumple, and he falls with his face in the dirt, almost under the rear step of the wagon. He moves his head and arms but his legs are limp. He raises his head like a turtle and claws the ground . . .

The article in the Post-Dispatch concluded:

The camera shifts back to the central scene. Here and there is a body sprawled in what appears to be the grotesque indifference of death … A policeman, somewhat dishevelled, his coat open, a scowl on his face, approaches another who is standing in front of the camera. He is sweaty and tired. He says something indistinguishable. Then his face breaks into a sudden grin, he makes a motion of dusting off his hands, and strides away. The film ends.

Ten men were killed and scores seriously injured in the Memorial Day massacre.

The massacre was justified by Chicago police officials on the grounds that the steel strikers’ demonstration was a “Communist plot” to invade the Republic Steel plant and “murder” its occupants. According to these police officials, “two or three hundred lives’* were saved by the “disciplined police action.”

The following are excerpts from testimony given before the Senate La Follette Committee on June 30, 1937, by Captain James L. Mooney of the Chicago Police Force:

SENATOR THOMAS: Then you think the disturbance on the 30th was a fight between the police and the Communists?

CAPTAIN MOONEY: It was brought on over there by Red agitators . . . their real object was to get into the plant . . . They would have accomplished killing a lot of people in there.

SENATOR THOMAS: Do you think that all people you call Communists want to kill people, that that is one of their objectives?

CAPTAIN MOONEY: Not all of them, but all that I have met . . .

Later in his testimony, Captain Mooney asked, “Could I make a recommendation that would clarify the mind of the Senate Committee?”

Senator Thomas said yes.

“Deport every one of those Communists and all of those Reds out of the country,” said Captain Mooney, “and then we will get along.”

“Where would you send them?” asked Senator Thomas.

“Back to Russia; go over there with Lenin.”

“You actually think they were paid agents of Russia?”

“The reason I think so, down in the fifty district some of those way up in the Communist Party left for Russia to get further instructions.”

“Do you know what part of Russia they went to?”

“They went to the capital.”

“Where is that?”

Captain Mooney hesitated a moment and then replied. “Well, where Lenin is.”