AT THE DAWN of the twentieth century few Americans had any reason to look backward to the dark age of bloody conflict marked by the Haymarket calamity. As Lizzie Holmes feared, no one but a small band of die-hard anarchists seemed to remember her beloved comrades and their tragic story. As the century wore on, however, the Chicago anarchists were not so easily forgotten. Indeed, whether they were remembered as terrible criminals or revered as venerable martyrs, the five men buried at Waldheim were recalled quite often, not only on the American scene, but in faraway places as well. Even after the last of their cohorts passed away, even after the living memory of the anarchists faded into oblivion, Parsons, Spies and their comrades appeared again and again in poems, plays, novels and history books, in drawings and posters, as well as on banners carried at demonstrations, in speeches delivered at commemorative rituals and in editorials written on free speech.
The memory of the Haymarket anarchists endured not only because they became heroic figures in labor and radical folklore, but also because their words and actions, their trial and their execution raised so many critical questions about American society in the industrial age and after. Indeed, the most important issues raised by the Haymarket case— questions about equality and inequality, class and nationality, crime and punishment, free speech and public safety—remain as controversial in the twenty-first century as they ever were. All this is clear in retrospect, but in the two decades after the anarchists died, their story survived because a few radicals dedicated themselves to telling it and retelling it.
It was during this time that Lucy Parsons worked relentlessly, and at times single-handedly, to preserve the memory of her husband and his cause. Lucy’s memorial work was always difficult, but at first it was an onerous and even dangerous task, especially in 1901 after Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley and it was revealed that the assassin had been in Chicago and that he claimed to be an anarchist. According to the Tribune, the Secret Service suspected the “Haymarket gang” of being involved in the crime. When the paper sent its reporters to interrogate Lucy Parsons, she told them she had never heard of the assassin and that the shooting of the president was the worst thing that could happen to the anarchist movement. 1 She was correct.
Lucy Parsons in 1903
When President McKinley died, another red scare swept America, and the Haymarket-era image of the dangerous, anarchist immigrant reappeared. The new president, Theodore Roosevelt, set the tone, declaring that anarchism was “not the outgrowth of unjust social conditions but the daughter of degenerate lunacy, a vicious pest” that threatened “to uproot the very foundations of society” if it was “not speedily stamped out by death, imprisonment and deportation of all Anarchists.” 2
In 1903, President Roosevelt signed a pathbreaking law that barred anarchists from entry to the United States, along with paupers, prostitutes and the insane. The statute also allowed the government to deport any immigrants who converted to anarchism during their first three years in the country; this was the first time the federal government moved to exclude and deport certain immigrants because of their beliefs and associations.3
Nonetheless, Lucy Parsons plowed on with her publishing and speaking endeavors. She reprinted her collection of Albert’s speeches and letters, and then set off on an exhausting road trip to promote the book. Although she was now overshadowed by the notorious Emma Goldman, the widow of Albert Parsons was still a revered figure in immigrant union halls around the country. Grief, hardship, poverty and advancing age (she was fifty years old in 1903) had not diminished her beauty. A stunning photograph of her appeared in the new edition of The Life of Albert Parsons, one that would become an iconic image when radicals rediscovered Lucy many decades later. She is standing erect, looking taller and younger than she was, delicately holding a paper scroll and wearing one of the formal dresses she made with her own hands. Her dark hair is short and curled. A light shines on her face as she looks out at the world with sad eyes.
By this time, Lucy Parsons had abandoned support for propaganda by deed, and had joined with the Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs and others who were trying to create a new labor movement, based largely on the “Chicago idea” of revolutionary unionism that her husband had espoused. And so it was fitting that Lucy appeared as an honored guest at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World held at Chicago’s Brandt’s Hall in June 1905. Prominent among the 200 workers who attended the convention were the western hard-rock miners who followed their leader William D. Haywood to Chicago, carrying with them stories of the bloody battles they had fought in the Rocky Mountain metal-mining camps. Haywood, who had memorized the words of Spies and Parsons, convened the meeting of what he called the “Continental Congress of the working class.” The aim of the assembly, Haywood declared, was to create a revolutionary labor movement, premised on the reality of class struggle around the world. The IWW would become a vehicle for organizing the vast army of immigrant machine tenders and common laborers into “one big union” that would one day engage in the ultimate general strike. Once the “wage slaves” felt their own transcendent power, it would be natural for them to want to seize control of their industries and run them cooperatively. 4
Lucy Parsons’s presence at the first IWW convention reminded the delegates of the Haymarket tragedy, which had ended the first great drive for revolutionary unionism in Chicago.5 She told the assembled workingmen, and a few workingwomen, of how she came to Chicago twenty-seven years before as a young girl full of hope and animation, and how her life had been changed by her husband’s ordeal. After the convention adjourned that day, Bill Haywood recalled, the delegates responded to a plea from Lucy and visited Waldheim Cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of the Chicago martyrs.6
In the next dozen years, as the Chicago idea of one big union espoused by the Industrial Workers of the World began to catch on, Lucy found more and more workers eager to hear of her husband’s words and deeds. This was an age of industrial violence, when employers mounted relentless union-busting drives, aided by local police and vigilantes, by private gunmen and state militiamen and by hostile judges who denied workers freedom of speech and freedom of association. Scores of unarmed workers were slain on picket lines during mass strikes that often seemed like rebellions. As a result, many of the new immigrants who had been pouring into the United States by the millions since 1890 were intimidated; some of them, however, were radicalized by these experiences and attracted by the IWW’s embrace of all races, creeds and nationalities—“the wretched of the earth.” Prominent among these alienated immigrant laborers were the peasants and laborers who came to “L’America” from the poor provinces of the Italian Mezzogiorno.
Common laborers and factory operatives from southern Italy played an outsized role in the mass strikes that exploded all over the United States between 1909 and 1919, notably in the “Uprising of the 20,000” women clothing workers of New York City; in the legendary strike for “Bread and Roses” at Lawrence, Massachusetts; and in the Colorado coalfield wars, which culminated in the infamous massacre of two women and eleven children at Ludlow. Deeply involved in all these battles, Italian workers gravitated to the IWW and to a special foreign-language federation of the Socialist Party; they also helped revive the anarchist movement in the United States by forming scores of groups in industrial cities and towns. All of these organizations celebrated May Day and enjoyed picnics, where immigrants danced, sang songs, listened to long speeches, watched performances of plays like Primo Maggio, written by the poet Pietro Gori, which began and ended with the singing of Verdi’s operatic chorus “Va, pensiero,” and heard readings of poems like Gori’s “Undici Novembre”—a tribute to those who died on Black Friday.7 The main speaker on May 1 usually followed a common script that began with a reference to the first May Day and the grand struggle for freedom that cost the lives of the heroic Haymarket martyrs, innocent victims of so-called justice in America.8
The Chicago anarchists were recalled in especially grand fashion on May Day in 1913, during a huge strike of 25,000 Italian silk workers in Paterson, New Jersey, an anarchist stronghold. On that May 1, a monster demonstration wound its way through the city, led by women dressed entirely in red outfits with white IWW insignias. On this day, wrote a radical reporter, “the proletariat of Paterson raised the banner for which 26 years ago five of our comrades in Chicago were assassinated by the Republican Bourgeoisie.” 9
By this time, the memory of the Haymarket martyrs had taken on a new life of its own. References to the Chicago anarchists appeared across the United States in May Day marches, IWW mass strikes and anarchist picnics. The names of Parsons, Spies and the others also reappeared at various manifestations that took place in other nations, especially in Spain, France and Italy, as well as in Argentina, Cuba and Mexico, where revolutionary union federations led by anarchists became mass movements during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Many of the militants in these new anarchosyndicalist unions regarded the Chicago martyrs as pioneers and celebrated their memory in May Day job actions and demonstrations. In Mexico, for example, May Day was celebrated for the first time in 1913 with anarchist-inspired strikes for the eight-hour day, protests against the nation’s military rulers and memorials to the heroes who gave their lives for the cause in 1887. From then on, Primero de Mayo became a national holiday in Mexico, known as the “Day of the Martyrs of Chicago.”10
During these stirring times, the nearly forgotten widow of Albert Parsons regained her status as the leading player in a company of traveling anarchists dedicated to preserving the memory of Black Friday and the men who died that day. All the while, Lucy Parsons continued to struggle with local authorities over her right to speak freely. At one point Chicago police even denied her a permit to speak in Washington Square across from the Newberry Library, a site reserved for free speech at the request of the institution’s founder—one of the few such places that existed in Chicago after Haymarket. 11 Lucy’s numerous free-speech fights paralleled the IWW’s massive civil disobedience campaigns on behalf of free expression for workers. At a time when the First Amendment was regarded as unenforceable, these radicals, known as Wobblies, challenged the courts in sharp ways and drew the attention of many complacent citizens to local authorities who regularly denied, and indeed mocked, the right to free speech for dissenters.12
Lucy Parsons and her radical comrades kept speaking and agitating until the United States entered World War I. Then, in 1917 and 1918, a patriotic fervor swept the land, and the government suppressed all types of protests, including strikes and May Day marches.13 Eugene Debs and socialist opponents of the war were tried for sedition and imprisoned. The IWW was devastated by vigilante assaults and federal prosecutions. A third red scare followed the war, and in 1920, the Department of Justice conducted raids that led to the arrest of 10,000 people, whose civil liberties were abused by federal agents. That same year, Congress enacted a law that allowed the government to punish and deport aliens simply for possessing radical literature, for “advising, advocating or teaching” radical doctrines and for belonging to radical organizations. 14 By this time nearly every repressive measure called for during the post-Haymarket red scare had become federal law.
Under these circumstances, the nation’s leading historians reopened the Haymarket case and retried the defendants. Of the prosecution and execution of the Chicago anarchists, one legal scholar remarked: “It may be that after all is said and done the end justified the means; it may be that our Government which today seems to be extremely lax in allowing Bolshevism and I.W.W. doctrines to be preached . . . might well study the result of the Chicago trial.” The result was studied by historian James Ford Rhodes, who concluded in his influential History of the United States that “the punishment meted out to the anarchists was legally just.” Another noted historian of the time wrote that “all seven anarchist wretches who assumed an impudent front during the trial” deserved to be hanged—even those whom Governor Altgeld had pardoned. 15
Three decades after the hangings in Chicago, the memory of the Haymarket anarchists as heroic martyrs seemed to have survived mainly in the labor lore carried by itinerant Wobblies who constantly blew into the Windy City, where they roamed the “canyon stretching across the great west side from the Lake through the Loop on toward the setting sun.” These never-ceasing streams of humanity created what one observer called “the largest number of homeless and hungry men that have ever been brought together anywhere in our land.”16 Some of these hoboes turned up regularly in the free-speech park at Washington Square, now called “Bughouse Square,” where Lucy Parsons would speak about the old days and the men who gave their lives for the one-big-union idea.17
During the 1920s, Parsons joined the efforts of the Communist Party’s International Labor Defense group and took up the case of Tom Mooney, then serving a life sentence for allegedly bombing a San Francisco military-preparedness parade. She also joined the worldwide campaign to save the lives of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the two Italian anarchists sentenced to death in Massachusetts after a sensational murder trial. The ordeal of Sacco and his comrade Vanzetti aroused the same objections from well-known writers and intellectuals that Henry Demarest Lloyd and William Dean Howells had made on behalf of Parsons, Spies and their comrades. Like the Chicago anarchists, the Italians were tried by a biased judge and a packed jury on charges of “general conspiracy” to commit murder, and they too were executed for their beliefs as much as for their actions; thus they became victims, one commentator wrote, of “a pattern of hate and fear toward radicals set in 1887.”18
The fate of Sacco and Vanzetti, who were electrocuted on August 23, 1927, served as a reminder of what had happened to the Chicago anarchists four decades earlier; and so, when the Great Depression hit in 1929, stories of Haymarket had already resurfaced and floated out of the confines of Chicago’s “hobohemia.” 19 In the hard times that followed, the legions of unemployed people demanding bread or work, the scores of radicals risking their lives to organize immigrant factory workers and the numerous cases of policemen gunning down protesters and picketers re-created scenes that had been acted out in Chicago during the Great Upheaval decades earlier. As a result, Lucy Parsons had many occasions on which to call up the memories of the workers killed in 1886 and 1887. Indeed, after many years of passing unnoticed, November 11 was celebrated once again as the Haymarket martyrs’ memorial day in 1937, when Lucy Parsons addressed a mass meeting at the Amalgamated Hall on Ashland Avenue in Chicago. According to one observer, she stepped out on the platform, bent with age, almost totally blind, but still hurled curses at the powers that be and still called for the overthrow of capitalism. 20
This fiftieth-anniversary ceremony occurred just five months after ten steelworkers were shot in the back and killed as they ran from Chicago police at the South Chicago plant of Republic Steel, where they had established a picket line. Known as the Memorial Day Massacre, the event aroused liberal Chicago in passionate protest against the police. History seemed to be repeating itself in 1937, as the city’s police department re-created the bloody events of 1886 and the Tribune blamed the massacre on a riot caused by communists. Under these circumstances, the memory of the Haymarket tragedy fifty years earlier became useful to the militant organizers of the new industrial unions in Chicago. On May Day, 1938, local unionists trying to organize the old McCormick company (by now International Harvester) held a march from the South Side to Haymarket Square led by a float that featured a hooded man, identified as August Spies, who stood with a rope around his neck in a tableau meant to symbolize the ongoing suppression of workers’ civil liberties by the Chicago police.21
The Haymarket affair was recalled during the bloody 1930s because it highlighted the agonizing dilemma violence presented for the American labor movement. Mainstream trade unionists like Sam Gompers had looked back in anger at the Chicago anarchists because their blatant advocacy of force played into the hands of labor’s enemies, but other union activists, like Eugene Debs and Bill Haywood, admired Parsons and Spies for facing up to the brutal realities of American industrial life.22 Even trade unionists opposed to the tactics and beliefs of the Chicago anarchists understood that workers’ struggles had often been met with shocking repression, and that when violence bred violence, when powerless laboring people struck back in anger, they often paid with their lives. This is why, unsettling though it has been, the Haymarket case could never be forgotten within the labor movement.
The eminent American historian Richard Hofstadter once observed that, even with a minimum of radical activity and ideologically motivated class conflict, the United States has somehow experienced a maximum of industrial violence: at least 160 instances in which state and federal troops intervened in strikes, and at least 700 labor disputes in which deaths were recorded. He thought the reason for this lay more in the ethos of American capitalists than in that of the workers, because it was clear to him that most American violence had been initiated with a “conservative bias” by the “high dogs and the middle dogs” against radicals, workers and labor organizers, immigrants, blacks and other racial minorities who had, for their part, rarely taken forceful action against state authority. Writing in 1970, Hofstadter expressed dismay at the actions of young radicals like the Weathermen, who provoked violent confrontations to elicit repressive responses from authorities; he nonetheless concluded that there were far worse things in American history than the strikes and spontaneous riots that had erupted so often in the past. “After all,” he noted, “the greatest and most calculating of killers is the national state, and this is true not only in international wars, but in domestic conflicts.” 23
During the years after the shocking 1937 Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago, the new industrial unions grew and used their political influence to curb the police and private armed forces that had been used against strikers and protesters over and over again for sixty years. The aged Lucy Parsons, whose life had been shaped by these violent episodes, was treated like a living saint by many trade unionists in Chicago, especially when Congress mandated the eight-hour day in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, marking the end of the long struggle Albert and Lucy Parsons had helped to initiate. Lucy was a particularly important person to the radicals fighting to bring a union back to the old McCormick Reaper Works, where all the trouble began so many years ago. In 1941, at age eighty-eight, she braved the winter winds and spoke to workers on the Black Road, where a union affiliated with the new Congress of Industrial Organizations was conducting a campaign for votes at the old McCormick works. When the weather warmed up that spring, Lucy reappeared at a May Day parade, riding through the South Side as an honored guest sitting on top of a float sponsored by the Farm Equipment Workers Union. It would be her last May Day.24
Nine months later, on March 7, 1942, the stove in Lucy Parsons’s little house caused a fire. Handicapped by her blindness, Lucy could not escape. She died of smoke inhalation. Her books, papers and letters from Albert and a host of others survived the fire, but were confiscated by police officers and never seen again. Lucy Parsons’s ashes were placed at Waldheim, close to the remains of her beloved husband and her daughter, Lulu. Her quiet funeral was attended by many of the young radicals who carried on the union fight that had begun during the Great Upheaval of her youth.25
Lucy’s final May Day in 1941 was also the last one celebrated in Chicago for many years. After the United States entered World War II, Communist Party leaders let May 1 pass without notice. They even disbanded their party organization and joined mainstream union leaders in taking a no-strike pledge for the duration of the war. The Chicago idea of militant unions taking mass action against capital and the state—the idea Parsons and Spies espoused until their last breaths—had simply vanished from the American labor scene.
After World War II the living memory of the Haymarket anarchists died, and their story survived only in literature—in the Chicago poems by Kenneth Rexroth; in a best-selling novel, The American: A Middle Western Legend, about the life of John Peter Altgeld written by the most popular leftist writer of the time, Howard Fast; and in Nelson Algren’s prose poem to his hometown, Chicago: City on the Make.26 Long ago, the famous novelist wrote, Chicago had been the town of “the great Lincolnian liberals,” figures like John Peter Altgeld, “the ones who stuck out their stubborn necks in the ceaseless battle between the rights of Owners and the rights of Man.” Algren loved this Chicago that was once the “most radical of all American cities: Gene Debs’ town, Bill Haywood’s town, the One Big Union town.” But he also hated the place because it was the most brutal of all American cities, a “town of the hard and bitter strikes and the trigger happy cops,” a town where “undried blood on the pavement” recalled the Haymarket tragedy. And so Chicago remained a city with “many bone-deep grudges to settle”—none greater, Algren thought, than the “big dark grudge cast by the four standing in white muslin robes, hands cuffed behind, at the gallows’ head. For the hope of the eight hour day.”27
AFTER ALGREN’S HARD-EDGED essay on Chicago appeared and then disappeared, the Haymarket story nearly vanished from literature during the Cold War years, when all manifestations of radicalism became deeply suspect. The May Day celebrations that had resumed briefly after World War II were banned. In 1955, May 1 was proclaimed Law Day in many states, and then designated as Loyalty Day throughout the country by presidential decree. The Congress of Industrial Organizations merged with the conservative American Federation of Labor that same year after nearly all radicals had been purged from union offices. The epic events in Chicago that gave birth to the first labor movement and the first May Day, as well as to the Haymarket tragedy, now became merely another chapter in “labor’s untold story.” Thus, it seemed that the memory of Haymarket would be effectively erased from the labor movement’s history, even in Chicago.28
Elsewhere, however, particularly the Latin world, the Haymarket story was told and retold many times over. Indeed, no other event in United States history after the Civil War exerted the kind of hold the Haymarket tragedy maintained on the popular imagination of working people in other countries, particularly in Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico, where exiled Spanish and Italian anarchists organized the first labor unions and led militant strikes and May Day marches in the decades after Haymarket. 29
Even in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay, where military dictators destroyed unions, imprisoned their members, executed their leaders and suppressed all forms of oppositional writing and speaking during the 1970s, stories about the Haymarket martyrs were told and icons to their memory were preserved. While traveling in a remote tin-mining region of Bolivia during the 1980s, the writer Dan La Botz met a worker who invited him into his little home. As he was eating dinner with the miner and his family, La Botz noticed a small piece of cloth hanging in the window, an embroidery that in the United States might have read GOD BLESS OUR HOME. He moved closer to take a look and saw that it read LONG LIVE THE MARTYRS OF CHICAGO.30
IN 1985 THE URUGUAYAN AUTHOR Eduardo Galeano came to Chicago from Montevideo, where he had been a union activist and radical journalist until 1973, when a military coup sent him to prison and then into a long exile.31 He fondly remembered the May Day marches that took place in his home city every year until the generals seized power; and so when Galeano came to Chicago during springtime, he wondered if May 1 would be celebrated in this city full of factories and workers. As soon as he arrived, he asked his hosts to take him to the Haymarket district to see the historic site, but when he arrived on Desplaines Street, he found nothing to mark the spot. No statue had “been erected in the memory of the martyrs of Chicago in the city of Chicago,” he recalled. Not even a bronze plaque. Furthermore, May Day came and went without notice. “May 1st is the only truly universal day of all humanity, the only day when all histories and all languages and religions and cultures of the world collide,” Galeano wrote. “But in the United States, May 1st is a day like any other. On that day, people work normally and no one, or almost no one, remembers that the rights of the working class did not spring whole from the ear of a goat, or from the hand of God or the boss.”32
Eduardo Galeano left Chicago without meeting those kindred spirits who did remember Haymarket and May Day—the old radicals and union veterans of the Depression-era struggles in the stockyards and steel mills who were custodians of the city’s plebeian memories. Unbeknownst to Galeano, a small party of these people had been trying for more than fifteen years to erect a memorial in Haymarket Square to the workers who died there and to those who later swung from the gallows.
The most famous of them was Studs Terkel, a noted expert on jazz, a popular radio host, a much-loved raconteur and a keeper of the city’s memory books. Terkel appeared on public television on May 1, 1986, to speak on the centennial of “one of the most traumatic moments in American labor history, the Haymarket tragedy.” It was all about the fight for a freer workplace, he explained. Some young workers “bad-mouthed unions,” he declared, but at the same time they accepted the freedom unions gained for workers “as a matter of course.” But did they “know how it came about, how many blacklistings, how many busted heads, how many busted lives” it took? “Whatever benefits American working people have today didn’t come from the big-heartedness of those who employed them,” Terkel added. “They were hard-fought gains, through hard-fought battles.” 33
For sixteen years Terkel had been working with a small group of Chicagoans dedicated to preserving the memory of the workers who died during and after the riot in 1886. Studs first learned the Haymarket story from Wobblies who roomed in his mother’s hotel and was reminded of it again and again, particularly on one memorable occasion in 1926 when he heard Lucy Parsons speak in Bughouse Square. For him the Haymarket saga was at the heart of Chicago’s story as he knew it and told it.34
Terkel’s preservation efforts took a public turn on May 4, 1970, when he addressed a small memorial meeting in Haymarket Square. He spoke that day of the duty to remember striking workers who came there to protest on May 4, 1886, and who deserved their monument, the same as the police who were memorialized by the old statue that still stood at the end of the square, now hovering perilously close to an expressway that tore the West Side apart.35
Studs Terkel speaking at the Haymarket Memorial Committee rally on May 4, 1970, on the site where the speakers’ wagon was located on May 4, 1886
The meeting took place in rough political waters still churning from violent events involving the Chicago police. After Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968, angry black protesters appeared on the streets of the West Side, and 5,000 police officers massed to protect the downtown Loop. Once again blood flowed on those streets when patrolmen shot 48 African-Americans. Four of them died.36
A week later Mayor Richard J. Daley said the police had been too soft on the rioters and issued a militant “shoot to kill” order in cases involving arsonists and looters. The next day, in a speech observing May 1 as Law Day, Mayor Daley rephrased his controversial order, but he kept the police force on high alert and activated a special “Red Squad” to deal with black militants and the antiwar radicals planning to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in August.37
When protest groups applied for permits to march and rally at the event, they were denied them, but as the convention neared, demonstrators poured into the city anyway, expecting a showdown between “a police state and a people’s movement.” On the night the convention opened, the whole world watched on television as Chicago police furiously beat demonstrators and news reporters in front of the Hilton Hotel’s Haymarket Bar and then pursued them into Grant Park.38
In the fall of 1969 tensions escalated again when the trial of the “Chicago Eight” began in the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman. Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Black Panther leader Bobby Seale were among the eight radicals accused of conspiring to incite riots at the Democratic National Convention in a trial that conjured up the prosecution of the eight Haymarket anarchists eighty-three years before. Under the circumstances, the young revolutionaries who came to the city for the trial focused their anger on the Chicago police, whose history was symbolized by the police statue that still stood in Haymarket Square.39
The erection of public monuments had sometimes provoked controversy in the past, but no city experienced a conflict as explosive as the one that erupted in Chicago over the memorial legacy of Haymarket Square.40 The Haymarket police statue had aroused resentment as soon as it was dedicated in 1889, and when it was moved to Union Park on the West Side a few years later, it was good riddance, according to the city’s labor unionists. Then, in 1957, the Haymarket Businessmen’s Association restored the monument and returned it to the square in an effort to promote tourism in a dingy part of town. And there it stood on Randolph Street until the night of October 6, 1969, when the monument was blown apart by several sticks of dynamite placed between the bronze patrolman’s legs.
The explosion broke windows in nearby buildings and rained down pieces of metal on the Kennedy Expressway, but no one was hurt. “The blowing up of the only police monument in the United States . . .” was, according to the leader of the city’s police sergeants, “an obvious declaration of war between the police, and the S.D.S. [Students for a Democratic Society] and other anarchist groups.” In fact, the statue had been destroyed by members of the militant Weathermen faction of SDS, who knew the Haymarket story and regarded Spies and Parsons as heroic figures.41 The explosion did nothing, however, to relieve the rage young revolutionaries felt toward the police—a rage that became an uncontrollable fury when two Black Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed by Chicago police officers during a nighttime raid on their apartment in December of 1969.42
Under these adverse circumstances, a small group of union veterans formed a Haymarket Memorial Committee to undertake the formidable task of erecting something in the square to honor the memory of the workers killed by police gunfire that night in 1886 and of the men who were tried and executed for the bombing. The committee’s secretary, Leslie Orear, drew an explicit connection between past and present in his call for a new memorial. The Haymarket tragedy, he wrote, offered a useful analogy to the present because the conflicts that produced it were so much like the outbreaks of violence that caused bloodshed in the late 1960s.43
The memorial committee had no success, however, when it challenged what Les Orear called “a deliberate amnesia” on the part of city officials concerning the Haymarket tragedy. An even more serious problem was the police department’s investment in its interpretation of violent events. “Our story is that the Haymarket was a police riot—nobody did a damn thing until the police came,” Orear explained. “Their story is that they saved the city from anarchist terrorism.” Mollie West, a Memorial Committee member who had nearly been killed by police gunfire during the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937, thought there could be a historical park in the Haymarket that would give the police a “fair shake” but also restore some balance to the site by honoring the protesters, though she realized that in Chicago this would be a hard act to complete.44 West had no idea just how difficult this task would become over the next few turbulent years.
When city officials regularly rebuffed appeals for some marker to commemorate the worker casualties of Haymarket, preservationists found another way to remember them. On May 4, 1970, the same day that Mayor Daley unveiled the newly repaired police statue, Studs Terkel and other Illinois Labor History Society members pluckily gathered in the square to dedicate a small plaque honoring the union dead, which they placed on the wall of the Catholic Charities Building on Randolph Street; it was all they could get, because city officials refused to allow any such thing to be put in public space. Shortly after it was hung, the plaque was torn down. There would be nothing new mounted in the square to contest the police department’s story of Haymarket, the story embodied so gallantly in the figure of the bronze patrolman with his hand raised in the air.
And then, on October 6, 1970, the Weathermen struck again, blowing up the police monument a second time.45 Months later, when the battered statue was repaired and returned yet again to its concrete pedestal, the mayor ordered round-the-clock police protection at considerable cost and embarrassment to the city. At this point, Les Orear of the Labor History Society wrote to Daley and suggested that the monument be moved out of the violently contested space in the Haymarket to a more secure location. The metal policeman remained on his pedestal for two more years until the statue was quietly transferred to the lobby of the Central Police Station; it was later placed in a nearly hidden courtyard of the Chicago Police Training Academy, where it could be viewed only by special appointment.46
The square was now emptied of any physical reminder of the 1886 tragedy. This vacancy still seemed a shame to Orear, who had devoted years of work to memorializing the place. He had met people who visited the site and broke down in tears “when they found there was absolutely no demarcation there,” and he had often led delegations of foreign travelers to the spot, pilgrims who came from all over the world to Chicago and who viewed the site “in awe, like it was a holy place.”47
So Orear and his party of memory carried on until they finally achieved a victory in 1986, when the Illinois Labor History Society persuaded the new mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington (elected in 1983 as the city’s first black mayor), to support a memorial park in the square that would honor the workers who died there, including the four anarchists who were later executed. On May 4, 1986, when the centennial of Haymarket was observed in various parts of the city, Mayor Washington issued a proclamation honoring the first May Day in 1886 as the beginning of “the movement towards the eight-hour day, union rights, civil rights, human rights” and describing the Chicago trial and execution that followed as “a tragic miscarriage of justice which claimed the lives of four labor activists.”48 However, when Mayor Washington died at the start of his second term in 1987, hopes for a memorial park expired with him. And so nothing existed in the Haymarket to recall the lives of anyone who died there, not the protesters and not the police.
ALTHOUGH HAYMARKET SQUARE lacked any visible reminders of the tragedy, the story of what happened there in 1886 and of what happened afterward gained more and more attention in the years after the centennial ceremonies. The old radical press in Chicago, the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, produced a rich documentary collection, reprinted William Adelman’s popular walking tour of Haymarket sites, and published the music and lyrics to Eight Hours, a cabaret-style musical production. These centennial publications were followed by a parade of scholarly studies by historians interested in Haymarket as a watershed moment in U.S. history.49 In 1998 historians at the Newberry Library achieved some public recognition of the event’s significance when they persuaded the United States Park Service to make the martyrs’ memorial at Waldheim a national landmark.50 In addition, various artists and imaginative writers produced cultural interpretations and artistic representations of the story and its characters, most recently in a novel and in three plays about the ever intriguing lives of Albert and Lucy Parsons.51 This continuing fascination with the Haymarket affair is based on the story’s timeless qualities: its inherent drama, its tragic victims and larger-than-life characters, and its resonance with the political fears and moral concerns of the late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century world.52
ON SEPTEMBER 14, 2004, several hundred Chicagoans gathered to dedicate a memorial in Haymarket Square, finally erected as a result of persistent efforts by the Illinois Labor History Society and the officers of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The city’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, the son of Richard J. Daley, approved the project, and the head of the city’s police union spoke at the ceremony, even though both men seemed well aware of Haymarket Square’s explosive history.53
There is a statue now on the exact spot where Sam Fielden stood speaking on a hay wagon when Captain Ward gave the order to disperse that night in 1886. Instead of naming the casualties of the Haymarket tragedy, the new monument on Desplaines Street offers the public a symbolic memorial: a figurative composition of rounded-off bronze figures with a reddish hue, shapes of people who are assembling, or perhaps disassembling, a wagon. 54 The base of the structure features a cautiously worded inscription that refers to the affair as “a powerful symbol for a diverse cross section of people, ideas and movements,” which touched “on the issues of free speech, the right of public assembly, organized labor, the fight for the eight-hour workday, law enforcement, justice, anarchy, and the right of human beings to pursue an equitable and prosperous life.”55
This language is nothing like what the fierce partisans of the Haymarket martyrs would have chosen. Rather, the inscribed words on the monument’s base reflect a point of view carefully hammered out by a committee of citizens and local officials trying to mark a spot and an event that left a painfully conflicted memory as its legacy. So it took some time for citizens, advocates and officials to agree on an appropriate Haymarket memorial—thirty-five years after the idea was first raised by Studs Terkel and others. For all those years, said the city’s cultural historian, the idea of commemorating Haymarket was impossible because the event aroused such strong emotions; it took a long time for Chicagoans to gain a perspective that allowed people “to look back on the Haymarket and see that it was everybody’s tragedy.” 56
MANY PEOPLE ON ALL SIDES suffered, directly and indirectly, from the terrible events that unfolded in Chicago beginning on May 3, 1886. Besides the policemen and workers who lost their lives as a result, and scores of family members and friends who lost loved ones, other Americans sustained a different kind of loss—a loss of heart. This was particularly true in the case of many of the worker activists and labor reformers who imagined creating a new and better world on the eve of the Great Upheaval. In 1865 their forefathers, Andrew Cameron, William Sylvis and Ira Steward, believed that the Republic’s sacrifices in the Civil War, including the death of their beloved president, had made it possible for the United States to become a more perfect union. With the slaves emancipated and the South under democratic reconstruction, union workers in Chicago and other cities began to anticipate their own emancipation from the endless workday and growing tyranny of wage labor. For nearly twenty years they clung to that dream despite their bitter disappointment with failed laws, despite their suffering in two crippling depressions and despite their bloody defeats in strike after strike. On May 1, 1886, all this was forgotten as workers celebrated their “emancipation day” and looked forward to a new era when, they believed, America would become a cooperative commonwealth, free of violence and coercion or “class rule of any kind.” Three more days of hope followed, until the tragic bombing and shooting in Haymarket Square shattered the euphoria and unleashed the forces that led to Black Friday, when four workers in muslin robes dangled from ropes in Cook County Jail.
In the decades that followed, there would be other moments like May 1, 1886, when laboring people would strike and march and demonstrate their desire to create a new world of work, moments when they could even imagine the coming of a new cooperative society. But never again would there be anything quite like the feeling thousands of American workers experienced on that first May Day, that day when they believed that their dreams of freedom would really come true.
The nonviolent mass protests of May 1, 1886, could have marked a turning point in American history—a moment when our industrial relations could have developed in a different, less conflicted way, but instead the killings at the McCormick plant, the bombing in the Haymarket, along with the court proceedings and the hangings that followed, ushered in fifty years of recurrent industrial violence, a period when workers, especially immigrants, often found themselves at war with their employers, the courts, the police and the armed forces of their own government.
In this sense, the Haymarket affair was not “everybody’s tragedy.” The defeat of the eight-hour movement, the suppression of its radical wing and the extinction of the visionary Knights of Labor were great victories for employers in Chicago and other American industrial cities. Furthermore, the arrest, trial and execution of the anarchists were seen as moral and political victories for law and order, a series of events that were said to have saved the Republic from anarchy. The losers in the saga appeared at first to be merely a few maladjusted immigrant workers and the most militant troublemakers in their midst. But, in the long run, the losses were much broader.
The people of Chicago lost any chance for the social peace all classes desired; instead, they inherited the “bone deep grudges” that would rest on their shoulders for decades to come. The officers of the court, the police captains, the prosecuting attorneys, the judges and jurymen in the Haymarket case had seemed like heroes in 1887, but within a few years, they lost their lustrous reputations when members of the bar and other influential citizens throughout the state and elsewhere came to believe that the convictions of the anarchists were, in Clarence Darrow’s words, “brought about through malice and hatred,” and that the tactics used by the police and the prosecution constituted a “standing menace to the liberty of the citizen.”57 What is more, the execution of Spies, Parsons, Engel and Fischer came to be seen by many people in the United States and overseas not as a victory of democracy over anarchy, but as a travesty that betrayed the American ideal of liberty and justice for all. It is impossible to say exactly what might have been different if the police hadn’t killed those strikers at McCormick’s, if the chief inspector hadn’t decided to break up the Haymarket meeting, if someone hadn’t thrown the bomb, but it is clear that, in some sense, we are today living with the legacy of those long-ago events.