Texas Labor History Before 1935

Texas Socialists Won 11.7% of Governor’s Vote

In the 1914 Texas Governor’s Race, E.R. Meitzen , the Socialist candidate from Hallettsville, piled up 11.7% of the vote and made his party the second largest in the state. Jim Ferguson, the Democrat who eventually won, co-opted a large part of the tenant farmer vote that might otherwise have gone with the Socialists.

I’m putting more description of the remarkable Meitzen family and their profound effect on progressive politics in the Socialism section of this site.

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Black Soldiers Were Hanged for Mutiny in 1917

Angela Armendariz Dorau, "Of Soldiers, Racism, and Mutiny. The 1917 Camp Logan Riot and Court Martial." Heritage, Spring, 1998. Includes a photo of the trial that was donated by Attorney John H Crooker III.

These were apparently Buffalo Soldiers from the 24th Regiment created in 1869. They had distinguished war record and exemplary behavior before coming into Houston, near TC Jester & Washington streets. "The citizens and leaders of Houston let it be known that they did not want nor welcome armed black soldiers in their city." But they wanted the federal construction money. The soldiers only had billy-clubs for guard duty.

Hot morning of August 23, 1917, a thunderstorm blew into a 102 degree day. Soldiers resisted Jim Crow on the street cars, and were attacked by police. "At the time of the riot, the Houston police force had a reputation for brutality and racism and was in need of reform." "...commanding officers blind to the impending danger." "Earlier on the day of the riot, Houston police officers had beaten two black soldiers, thefirst for interfering in the arrest of a black woman, and the second for inquiring about the first. In addition to beating the second soldier, the police shot at him..."

That night, the soldiers stormed the supply tent and armed themselves. Approximately 100 of them left for the city, aiming for revenge upon the police. Police met them and a 2-hour riot ensued. 'Twenty people died either during the riot or as a result of injuries received during the violence. Sixteen of those persons were white, and five of them were police officers. Four black soldiers lost their lives." 63 soldiers stood trial, all of whom had pled not guilty." Court martial began November 1, 1917.

"On November 29, 1917, the army convicted and sentenced 13 of the soldiers to death and 41 to hard labor and life in prison. Four received shorter sentences and five were acquitted." "Early in the morning of December 11, 1917, on the banks of the Salado Creek in a clearing on the perimeter of Fort Sam Houston, the condemned soldiers were hanged." "In September, 1918, six more soldiers were hanged in the same spot at Fort Houston..." She recommends book, "A Night of Violence" by Robert V Haynes, Louisiana State University, 1976.


Don't Miss Frank Little When Studying Labor's Heroes

OK, Frank Little's grave isn't exactly in Texas. It's in Butte, Montana (just north of Amarillo). But Frank was raised in Oklahoma next door, and I can't resist sharing the photo of his grave. It says "Frank Little 1879-1917. Slain by capitalist interests for organizing and inspiring his fellow men." Elaine Lantz and I have a thick scrapbook on the life of this most courageous and important American labor leader.

Compared to other labor figures, very little is written about Frank Little. But it wasn't because he lacked charisma or contributions -- it was because of the repression of the period. Click here for more on Frank Little

Little was killed on the same day that the Green Corn Rebellion began in Oklahoma. (See author "Bush" in Reading List)

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Early Texas Activists Combined Socialism & Religion

I have always been fascinated by religion in the labor movement. The Socialist Party was stronger in Kansas than anywhere else in the early part of the century, and they held their great camp meetings, as often as not, in conjunction with Campbellite revivalists from the Church of Christ!

Texas socialists were most popular among the German immigrants around Halletsville in that same period, and religious camp meetings were intertwined with the political speakers.

How can the most downtrodden people hold both the labor movement and tent revivalists so close to their hearts?

The Fall edition of Labor's Heritage gives part of the answer. Bryant Simon has a long article about a lay preacher named James Evans who worked in a textile mill in the deep South around 1930. The paternalistic mill owners had built 9 churches where their employees were taught to be submissive.

But many workers gathered with Evans in out of the way places to hear sermons about the meek being blessed and how hard it is to get a camel through the eye of a needle or a rich man into heaven.

According to the article, "fundamentalist religious groupings indicated the workers' social alienation and the depths of their religious and economic grievances. Away from the influences of mainstream theological thought, the new churches emphasized the equality of all people before God in the life to come, over the trappings of this world. Poverty, in fact, represented grace to some. Others censored the cultural practices, such as dancing, gambling, and consumption, often associated with the upper classes."

Labor's Heritage also has articles about workers' families in Massachusetts during the "Gilded Age", a biography of A. Phillip Randolph, and descriptions of the general strike in Seattle in 1919. It has fine glossy pictures, excellent writing, and long scholarly bibliographies for those hungry for more labor history. Subscriptions are $17.95 from Box 47097, Atlanta, George 30362-9842.

The lay preacher won the workers' hearts but had his union organizing drive smashed by the bosses using their traditional methods of fear and intimidation.

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Russian Revolution Affected Everything Afterward

The setting for the Russian revolution began when Japan defeated Russia in 1905. Russia was humiliated. During that war, people's committees were set up. They were a lot like what we Americans would call neighborhood groups, but larger and more effective. They actually tended to challenge the government for authority. The Russian word for "committee" is "soviet." Also during that period, the radical movement largely came together after a split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. One side, the minority, wanted a peaceful and gradual transition of power. The majority side wanted to replace Russia's rulers in any possible way. The Russian word for "minority" is "menshevik." The word for "majority" is "bolshevik." V.I. Lenin led the majority.

In early 1917, as Russian troops were being defeated by Germany, the people were fed up. Certain political figures, backed by the big money of the nation, overthrew their Tsar and aristocratic form of government. They wanted a republic. However, they also wanted to continue the war and their own property rights.

A lot of soldiers deserted. Many soldiers joined with workers and community groups in the committees. Committees, especially the Petrograd Soviet, actually grew almost as powerful as the newfound government. The bolsheviks called for "all power to the soviets," which was far more democratic, and more suitable to the people, than what the small group of elitists running the government wanted. The bolsheviks also called for "Bread, Land, and Peace." They wanted immediate food relief, an end to the old system of land ownership, and, most of all, they wanted out of the world war.

The capitalist government did not last out the year. The bolsheviks led an uprising that took over on November 7th (by our calendar, not theirs). There were only a handful of casualties in the actual Russian Revolution. The bolsheviks negotiated their way out of the war right away and ended casualties there. But armies from other countries, many of whom were already on Russian territory, joined the reactionaries in a giant civil war that took a terrible toll.

Just as they had said they would, the bolsheviks took the main properties from the aristocrats. They also took the main properties that were held by other elitists in the major capitalist nations. For the next 70+ years, they were undermined and invaded by the wealthy countries. Working people around the world initially celebrated the Russian revolution, but steady propaganda and threats from the other nations blunted their solidarity over time. Eventually, the Russian revolution was overturned.

IWW Assaulted in 1919

November 11, 1919 was Centralia Massacre. 4 VFW attackers killed, 8 IWW's jailed 25 to 40 years, 1 lynched. Wesley Everest. There's a web page and maybe Washington State Historical Society has it.

I got it from Labor's Heritage Vol 10 No 4  $19.95 for one year. (301) 4312-5457 fxj 301-431-0385  Labor's Heritage 10000 New Hampshire Av. Silver Spring, Maryland 20903 email:  rreynold@clark it's probably clark.edu but might be .com or .org


East Texas Workers Suffered Many Organizing Defeats

Ruth A Allen, East Texas Lumber Workers. An Economic and Social Picture, 1870-1950. Univ of Texas Press, 1961. Dallas Public Library 331.7634 A428e.
Allen was an economist and most of the book consists of documenting the poverty in the timber country of East Texas. However, on page 165 there begins a riveting chapter "Labor Unrest in the Pineries". Allen documents efforts of the Knights of Labor, the IWW, American Labor Union, The Brotherhood of Timber Workers, and the Timber Workers of
the World to organize and keep contracts with the lumber barons from 1870 on. On page 183 she lists the IWW's "antireligious attitude, the addition to violence, and the uncompromising antisegregationism of the IWW" with alienating the loyalties of most Texas timber workers after the IWW federated with the Brotherhood.
Meanwhile the employers banded together in an equal number of organizations, including the Southwestern Open Shop Association and the Texas Employers' Association. Allen gives other reasons for the general failure of unionization among East Texas timber workers: the cost differential for employers between operating and tolerating a strike or lockout, the racial disharmony among the workers, lack of immigration from other places, the fact that most East Texas timber workers were family men, and the divisions between skilled and unskilled workers.
On page 191 Allen characterizes modern (1961) East Texas as "an island of poverty in the midst of plenty."

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IWW Was Important in Oklahoma

Nigel Anthony Sellars, Oil, Wheat, +  Wobblies. The Industrial Workers of the World in Oklahoma, 1905-1930. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1998

Nigel Sellars expanded his dissertation into a book that benefits everybody interested in labor history in our region. He expands on ideas that are generally known, contradicts some important misinformation, and brings it together in an interesting, scholarly way.

As an Oklahoman, the parts of the book that hit me hardest were the accounts of repression during the period. Oklahoma's virile young ruling class asserted itself in the cruelest and most illegal ways. There were terms I didn't understand such as "incorporationist"; and I couldn't really understand why he called the hooded murderers and torturers "progressive businessmen" -- but those terms may be common parlance among professional historians.

There were a tiny few points I wasn't clear on. I knew that Frank Little wanted the IWW to oppose WWI openly and that he lost the argument at the Executive Board on his last trip to Chicago. But I was not aware that Ralph Chaplin sided with Little, even though I've read Chaplin's account of the meeting. Sellars treats the common charge that the IWW opposed WWI as factual, even though they took no open stand against it. Also, I'm awfully tired of the official historical position that the Greencorn Rebellion folks, whom I consider heroes, were a bunch of countrified fools.

Sellars carefully documents the successes that the IWW enjoyed in organizing itinerant farm workers and the financial support that the entire organization derived. He firmly contradicts the idea that the IWW failed in everything they tried after WWI by showing continued success among the Oklahoma harvesters.

People genuinely interested in the strengths and weaknesses of the Industrial Workers of the World, not just their romantic appeal, will benefit from Sellars' hard work and honest portrayal.

Watch for Sellars' name in future. He told me in 1995 that he would tackle the great lack in American labor history -- a life of Frank Little -- after he finished his dissertation. Hopefully, he's on it!

Dallas Was Jazz Center

Dallas was one of the jazz centers of the South. Down in "Deep Ellum" (Elm Street to the east of downtown), legendary entertainers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Hudie Blake, and Hudie (Leadbelly) Ledbetter performed. The area still had remnants of old jazz clubs and whorehouses in the late 1970s. In the early 1990s, "Deep Ellum" was begun anew as a major city project and tourist attraction.

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Dallas Ku Klux Klan Chapter Organized Late 1920

Historian Kent Biffle ran a column in the Dallas Morning News February 5, 1995, about the forming of Klan#66 in Dallas by Bertram G. Christie. Leading Dallas figures, including at least one mayor and one police chief, were members at one time, according to Biffle’s sources, UT-Austin Professor Norman D Brown in Hood, Bonnet and Little Brown Jug, and Southern Methodist University’s Darwin Payne’s history of Dallas, Big D.

Biffle says that the Klan enrolled 3-6 million members in the early 1920s. In Texas, they claimed 400,000 members and elected Earle B Mayfield, an admitted Klansman, to the U.S. Senate in 1922. One of the Dallas members was banker R.L. Thornton, who later on organized the Citizens’ Council that ran Dallas from 1935 to today (2002). Here is Biffle quoting Payne, “The Dallas Chapter… swelled within 4 years to an estimated 13,000 members, the largest local Klan in the nation.

‘…Many charter members were from the banks, the utility companies, and the professions…. By the spring of 1922, the Klan’s local executive committee of 10 included Police Commissioner (Louis) Turley, three attorneys, a physician, and the assistant general manager of the Dallas Street Railway Co.

‘Its steering committee of 100 included 12 lawyers, 8 physicians, 4 Dallas Power & Light Co. officials, the superintendent of the local Ford Motor Co., a Dallas Times Herald reporter, the Democratic Party county chairman, the county tax collector, a district judge-elect, a runoff candidate for district attorney (who would go on to win) and smattering of bankers, druggist grocer,s and others …

‘Robert L. Thornton Sr., the man who would later win acclamation as Mr Dallas, was a member.”

Dallasites are often reminded of Mayor Thornton, because they have to drive on the R.L. Thornton freeway.

The Biffle article goes on to remember the racist activities of the Klan in Dallas and its great influence throughout the state. He mentions “Negro Day” at the State Fair, the only day that African-Americans could come to see what their taxes had paid for.

The Dallas Morning News often takes credit for having fought against Klan influence in Dallas. Biffle says that their actual influence was gone by the time the Great Depression began. But they have continued to have some presence, including a downtown Dallas parade and rally on the police station steps in 1982.

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1921 Tulsa Massacre Shamed All

My friend Gary D learned a lot about atrocity during his two years in Vietnam, but it wasn't his first knowledge. Gary, you see, is from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

When did he learn about those mad, murderous days in Tulsa around May 31, 1921? He says he always knew even as a child. He knew people who lived in those days and worked with at least one who was there.

"Wall Street of the South" was what they called the Greenville section of Tulsa. Native Americans, who were allowed many material things but were not allowed cash, hocked items with the African American store-keepers in Greenville. Gary says that's where the money came from, and it generated a certain amount of jealousy among Tulsa's white residents.

The story is well known now: a white female elevator operator was heard to yell as a young Black man departed. He may have stepped on her shoe, but no charges were ever brought. The young man was put into jail and talk of lynching began immediately. The daily newspaper roused the angry white crowd, it is said, but no one can find a copy of that newspaper today.

That night, a white mob gathered at the jail. But their plans were thwarted when armed Black veterans from Greenville confronted them. There would be no lynching that night.

However, after the newspapers came out the next morning, white mobs descended on Greenville. They killed, they burned, and they lynched the Black neighborhood forever out of existence. Gary says it was the first and only time in U.S. history that American citizens were bombed from the air!

The massacre raged for three days. Most of the bodies were never found. Gary was raised believing that there was a mass grave at the National Guard Armory, right next to the baseball stadium where the Black ycitizens of Greenville were held in concentration-camp style.

The silence afterward stretched into years. Gary wrote a paper about it in his high-school writing class, but the teacher branded it false and tore it up. He barely passed the class. Later on, he worked on a newspaper that had funding, but the funding disappeared (and so did the newspaper) right after they ran an account of the Tulsa massacre.

In the 1990s, the news began to leak out, and people started looking for the graves…

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Sherman Massacre of 1930 Shamelessly Invisible

Dr. Randolph "Mike" Campbell of North Texas University was the guest on KNON's "Workers' Beat" talk show on 2/2/05. He discussed his new book, Gone to Texas and an earlier work An Empire for Slavery. During the hour-long call-in show, Campbell mentioned that one of his students had done a dissertation on the 1930 massacre in Sherman, Texas, but did not want to publish it. We lamented the fact that so much important history is hidden from us.

From Dr. Campbell's comments, it may be derived that thousands of people in Sherman rioted when an African American was accused of a heinous crime. He was in jail in the courthouse, which the mob burned with him in it. Afterward, they dragged out his body for public display and further humiliation. National guardsmen from Dallas were called out, but they refused to fire on the mob of approximately 3,000. The mob went on to burn down the entire district where African Americans did busines, at least a city block.

Several people were arrested, but only two served time. One was for rioting, the other for arson. No one went to jail for lynching.

One hero of the story was a gifted attorney named William J. Durham, Campbell said.Durham was forced to move to Dallas, but went on to be well known in the Democratic Party, and may have been the first African American to sit on the state board. Several callers said that WJ Durham's law office was on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Dallas. Two of them indicated that they were going to look him up, and the show host offered to interview him.

Brother Gary Kennedy of the UTU found detailed accounts of the "Sherman riot" on-line.


It adds to the story: "A black farm hand named George Hughes, described by acquaintances as "crazy," was accused of raping a young woman, who was never publicly identified. Hughes admitted that he had come to the farm five miles southeast of Sherman on May 3, 1930, in search of the woman's husband, who owed him wages. Hughes left when the woman said that her husband was in Sherman but soon returned with a shotgun, demanded his wages, and raped the woman. He shot at unarmed pursuers and at the patrol car of the deputy sheriff who later arrived to investigate the disturbance. He then surrendered." On Monday, May 5, Hughes was indicted for criminal assault by a special meeting of the grand jury in the Fifteenth District Court. County attorney Joe P. Cox set the trial date for Friday, May 9, and promised a speedy trial. In the days preceding the trial, rumors spread about the case, among them that Hughes had mutilated the woman's throat and breasts and that she was not expected to live. Medical examination of the woman and of Hughes showed the rumors to be false.... Soon afterward, lynchings followed at Honey Grove, at Benchly in Brazos County, and at Chickasha, Oklahoma. Several more lynching attempts-one, in Brownwood, against a white man-were thwarted.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lynchings and What They Mean (Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching, 1931). Dallas Morning News, May 10, 1990. Sherman Daily Democrat, May 4-24, 1930. Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).
Nolan Thompson

Recommended citation:
"SHERMAN RIOT OF 1930." The Handbook of Texas Online. <http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/SS/jcs6.html>


Statement from Frank Hamer, May 13, 1930

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Southern Worker Shows "Hard Traveling" During Depression Years

Dick J Reavis, who lives in Dallas in 2017, indexed the entire Southern Worker newspaper. Here are some relevant headlines he saved out for me:

Lynch Law At Work: Dallas, Tex., Dec 20 1930, 2

“Army Rags, Slop, Workers’ Pay—But No Jobless Aid,” Jan 10 1931, 1

“Long Hours, Low Pay,” Jan 17 1931, 3

Our Sustaining Fund, Jan 31 1931, 2

“400,000 Thruout [sic] Land In Jobless Demonstrations,” Mar 7 1931, 1

Lynch Law At Work: Dallas, Tex., Mar 7 1931, 2

“Rush to Defense of Our Comrades,” Mar 7 1931, 4

“Kidnap Two Organizers In Dallas,” Mar 14 1931, 1

“Jail Leader As Hungry Man Dies,” Mar 14 1931, 3

“Coder, Hurst Brutally Beaten By Lynchers,” Mar 21 1931, 1

“Smash Bosses Terror March 28th,” Mar 21 1931, 1

“Protest Dallas Terror In Gal.,” Mar 21 1931, 1

“No More Relief In Dallas, Texas,” Mar 21 1931, 2

“Coder, Hurst Back In Dallas,” Mar 28 1931, 2

“Movie Whips Up Lynch Spirit,” Mar 28 1931, 4

“Blame Reds For Trade Bombings,” Jun 6 1931, 3

“Destruction of Crop Takes Bread From Mouths of Thousands of Farm Laborers, Writes Texas Farmer,” Jul 12 1933, 3

“Plowing Under Puts Tenants Deeper Into Debt; Mortgaged Farmers Fear Foreclosure in Fall,” Aug 15 1933, 3

“Dallas Strikers,” photo, Mar-Apr 1935, 1

“2,000 Relief Strikers Hold Dallas City Hall,” Mar-Apr 1935, 2

“Texas Jobless Unite To Fight For Relief,” May 1935, 2

“Fired For Liberalism,” Jul 1936, 1

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Activists Were Kidnapped from the Steps of the Dallas Police Department!

Texas author and historian Dick J. Reavis dug up the story of two communists and an attorney who were kidnapped on March 4, 1931 from the steps of the Dallas police department. The article is in the January, 2016, issue of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly It begins:

Klansmen, Communists, and Civil Liberties in Dallas, 1931

By Dick J. Reavis*

About 8:20 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, March 4, 1931, three Dallas men—an attorney and two Communist clients—were kidnapped at gunpoint as they emerged from the Dallas jail, located in the city hall. Even though their abductors, fourteen men in four cars, wore neither robes nor hoods, they were presumed to be members of the Ku Klux Klan. The controversies that ensued over the next few weeks provide a good example of how racism in the Jim Crow era helped blind many white Dallasites to gross violations of civil liberties. The abduc tion was far from a perfect crime. Because it was staged on the steps of the jail and coincided with the unannounced release of the Reds, police complicity was suspected. And in taking attorney George Clifton Edwards the kidnappers snatched a man whose disappearance was bound to be noteworthy.

Edwards, then in his mid-fifties, was as much a pillar of his community as any man of his opinions could have been....

The three eventually were released and continued working for a better world.

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Blind Lemon Jefferson's Grave Is Kept Clean

"One kind favor I'll ask of you
One kind favor I'll ask of you
One kind favor, I'll ask of you, Lord
See that my grave is kept clean!"

Blind Lemon Jefferson's most famous folk song gave a wish that has been fulfilled by some of his many admirers. In the 1990s, a group of contemporary artists went together to get him a new headstone and care for the grass. The grave is in the segregated section of the Wortham, Texas, cemetery on Highway 14.

The famous folk singer is often associated with the “Deep Ellum” section of Dallas where he and his Louisiana friend, Hudie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter often sang. According to his tombstone, he was born December 1893, and died December 1933.

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