Friday, November 8, 2019

A Wobbly Lynched, Marchers Shot: Centralia Riot Mars Armistice Day in 1919

A year after the war, Armistice Day, November 11th, 1919, seemed relatively quiet here in Salem. Schools and businesses were closed, the American Legion was having a dance, but it did not seem to occasion much that registered in the newspaper.

Border control, nativism, and the Red Scare
November 9th, 1919
This may not be representative. Percolating all along was the Red Scare, and in Centralia, the IWW and American Legion clashed on Armistice Day. News of the violence, deaths, and further reaction to it may have sidelined more coverage of local celebrations.

"Reds fire on paraders" November 12th, 1919
The University of Washington blurbed Tom Copeland's 1993 history, The Centralia Tragedy of 1919 like this:
On November 11, 1919, the citizens of Centralia, Washington, gathered to watch former servicemen, local Boy Scouts, and other community groups march in the Armstice Day parade. When the marchers swung past the meeting hall of the Industrial Workers of the World, a group of veterans broke ranks, charged the hall, and were met by gunshots. Before the day was over, four of the marchers were dead and one of the Wobblies had been lynched by the mob.
The history of it is not clear and seems to be highly contested, so I can't tell you "what really happened." Neither side seems innocent of aggression and overreaction.

The news here slanted it immediately as the fault of the IWW. "Reds Fire on Paraders" was the very first headline in the morning Statesman. The afternoon Journal clarified that the initial morning identification of the lynching victim was inaccurate, and that significant portions of the initial news would need to be revised.

"Man lynched by mob...not leader"
November 12th, 1919

"Every IWW hall in the country should be...closed
...every alien agitator deported"
November 12th, 1919
New Journal owner George Putman likely wrote the editorial, blaming "anarchists" and calling for jailing the "avowed enemies of society."

There had been the possibility of a strike at the Spaulding Lumber Mill in late October, and an inchoate threat from the Reds remained a potent kind of fear. Dissent was not necessarily encouraged. In September the Journal had called for Salem to be a "strikeless city," with "no place in Salem for the radical Bolshevik agitator." But the call for "harmony" really meant harmony on Capital's terms, that
Instead of championing 30-hour work weeks to give leisure for self-indulgence and idleness, instead of sowing the seeds of discord, labor organizations should strive to inculcate love of industry, so that the toiler may find joy in his work, the pursuit of knowledge in his leisure and advocate the practice of thrift that he may profit in the future from his labor of today.
Since it's the 100th anniversary, maybe there will summaries of newer scholarship published over the weekend. If so, I may update here. As Salemites got more news about the initial investigation in 1919, there may also be more to say later in the month about the reception here, even if it remains difficult to say "what really happened."

If the mood after World War I was jingoistic and nativist, with a kind of idolatry for the doughboy and patriot, there was "shell-shock" and other conditions for some veterans. While we consider the rhetoric against "self-indulgence and idleness," we might remember a slightly earlier "war on the hobo element," some of whom were probably veterans also, especially as we debate a modern revival of a vagrancy law.

"a war on the hobo element"
April 18th, 1911
Back in 1911 we treated them as convict labor:
Eleven hoboes today said "good morning" to his honor, Judge Elgin, and, after the formal greeting and a few inquiries by the judge, all 11 were assigned to work on the gravel pit under Poundmaster Irvin, making in all 21 prisoners who are now in his charge and at work in this pit.

The bunch of 11 were rounded, up yesterday afternoon and evening by Chief Hamilton and his officers, as the chief and Judge Elgin are making a war on the hobo element, who, like the birds, now that spring is here, are migrating north. They were arraigned this morning on a charge of vagrancy, and there was the munificent sum of 10 cents between them all.

All Had Jobs.

As they ranged between 20 and 30 years in age, and were husky and intelligent looking Individuals, the Judge made a few inquiries as to the reason they were out of employment. First one reason and another was given, but when it came to prospective labor, they all had a job mapped out for today, and it was imperative that they be released so that they could accept it. The Judge advised them that he agreed with them, that they had a job for today and for a few more days, as he was going to look after them, and assigned the whole bunch to five days of labor each on the gravel pit.
"thirteen sorry looking men"
November 15th, 1909
And in 1909 they were jailed:
Same Old Story
Thirteen sorry looking men were brought before Judge Moores in the police court this morning, who were thrown in Saturday and Sunday, and after answering different charges of vagrancy, and drunkenness, Judge Moores sent them back to the warm confines of the city bastile to serve out sentences ranging all the way from two and a half to ten days each. The same old story was related by each unlucky fellow. "Out with a friend," "Just a little too much," "never intended to go the limit," and many other excuses.
The Civil War Memorial in City View (November 2019)
I know it's Veterans Day, not Memorial Day,
but it's still a good time to visit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A piece by what looks like a University of Washington librarian has this to say:

"During the parade, not unexpectedly, the Centralia Legionnaires slowed to leave a gap between their group and the Chehalis group ahead of them. The Centralia group stopped in front of the I.W.W. hall, and a subset of the Centralia group left the main group, ran to the I.W.W. hall, and forced the door open. Much to their surprise, they were met by gunfire. There is little doubt, from later testimony, most notably that of Dr. Frank Bickford who admitted leading the raid, that the Legionnaires initiated the conflict."

But it's not signed or footnoted or given any bibliography, unfortunately.