Memorial Day massacre of 1937
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In the Memorial Day massacre of 1937, the Chicago Police Department shot and killed ten unarmed demonstrators in Chicago, on May 30, 1937. The incident took place during the Little Steel strike in the United States.
The incident arose after U.S. Steel signed a union contract but smaller steel manufacturers (called 'Little Steel'), including Republic Steel, refused to do so. In protest, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) called a strike.
On Memorial Day, hundreds of sympathizers gathered at Sam's Place, a former tavern and dance hall at 113th Street and Green Bay Avenue, that served as the headquarters of the SWOC. As the crowd marched across the prairie towards the Republic Steel mill, a line of Chicago policemen blocked their path. The foremost protestors argued their right to continue. The police, "feeling threatened," fired on the crowd. As the crowd fled, police shot and killed ten people, four dying that day and six others subsequently from their injuries. Nine people were permanently disabled and another 28 had serious head injuries from police clubbing.
In the book Selected Writings by Dorothy Day (who was present), the events of the protest are summarized as thus: 'On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. Fifty people were shot, of whom 10 later died; 100 others were beaten with clubs.'
Years later, one of the protesters, Mollie West, recalled a policeman yelling to her that day, "Get off the field or I'll put a bullet in your back." No policemen were ever prosecuted.
A Coroner's Jury declared the killings to be "justifiable homicide". The press often called it a labor or red riot. President Roosevelt responded to a union plea, "The majority of people are saying just one thing, ′A plague on both your houses′"
A memorial plaque at the base of a flagpole with the names of the 10 people who were killed is located at 11731 South Avenue O, the former United Steel Workers Local 1033 union hall, which is now occupied by the United Auto Workers Local 3212. Thirty years to the day of the massacre, it was dedicated on May 30, 1967.
The Republic Steel Memorial Day Massacre Sculpture, created by former Republic Steel employee Edward Blazak, was dedicated in 1981. Originally located near the main gate at 116th Street and Burley Avenue, it was rededicated in 2008 and relocated to 11659 South Avenue O, at the southwest corner of the grounds of a Chicago Fire Department station housing Engine #104.
In the wake of the massacre, the news reel of the event was suppressed for fear of creating, in the words of an official at Paramount News agency, "mass hysteria." This footage demonstrated that the massacre was a police riot.
- Republic Steel Strike Riot Newsreel Footage (1937 documentary film)
- Murder of workers in labor disputes in the United States
- List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States
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