Thursday, May 04, 2006

Learning from Dr. Turner on what to call Haymarket

The Haymarket Massacre

120 years ago today, workers were peacefully rallying for workers rights and in outrage at the two workers murdered by police at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant the day before. This demonstration occured at Haymarket sqaure in Chicago. Famed anarchist leader August Spies said, according to witnesses, that he was not there to incite anyone. Then about 170 police officers advanced on a mostly dispersed peaceful crowd of 200 with repeater rifles, demanding they disburse. Someone threw a bomb, and the police opened fire, killing 4 workers and injuring dozens more. One police officer was killed by the bomb, and 7 others later died, mostly from their own bullets.

Later, 8 leaders of important labor unions and anarchist organizations were selected to be tried for inciting the riot and murder. All 8, some of whom weren't even at the rally (Fischer was at a saloon), were tried and convicted. August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, and Oscar Neebe were the leaders deemed guilty. Even the Chicago Tribune offered to pay the jury for a guilty verdict. All but Neebe wer sentenced to death. Illinois Governor commuted Fielden and Schwab's sentences to life in prison after pressure from the international labor community. Lingg blew off his own head with a dynamite cap, and the rest were hung on November 11, 1887. In June of 1893, the new governor of Illinois, John P. Altgeld freed the living men and concluded all 8 were innocent. He condemned the whole trial and judicial system.

Now, during one of my favorite and most difficult classes at college, The History of African American Political, Economic and Social Thought, Dr. James Turner (founding director of the Africana Studies Research Center at Cornell) started one of our very first classes by discussing what happened with Rodney King. And it was interesting that many of the white skinned people in the room referred to what happen afterwards as a riot. Our fellow black students would stop us and ask us why we were using that term riot, which implies a wildness without purpose. One suggested uprising or rebellion to describe it, as people were expressing their outrage at the verdict and the injustice of it.

Now, given the nature of the rally (peaceful) until marched on by police, that you have one person throwing a bomb and no evidence of everyone else there doing anything else except getting away from the batallion of police with rifles, i think calling Haymarket a riot does the memories of those workers shot and killed a grave disservice. Not only that, it also does the memories of those five leaders a grave disservice. All around the country, Haymarket was used as an excuse to shut down labor friendly papers, round up union leaders, and to slow down the 8 hour movement.

Henceforth, I will refer to the incident at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886, as the Haymarket Massacre.

4 Comments:

Blogger sched1/david. said...

how does this inform the name of your blog? also, the second definition from dictionary.com is this (emphasis added): Law. A violent disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled for a common purpose.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Ruby K said...

Good question and good point, schedule 1. The answer to the question, I'll have to get back to you. As for your point, while I did in fact see that definition as well, it doesn't speak to assemblage in direct protest. When you think riot, don't you think morons who are turning over cars on account of their city's team winning or losing a sporting event? The usual connotation and underpinnings of riot are unruliness for no justified reason.

12:07 PM  
Blogger BossMack said...

Good Post Here.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Ruby K said...

Thanks BossMack. Appreciate the love. Come back anytime.

2:01 PM  

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