Archive ID: 2017-019-1

“Citizens” by Meyer Levin

Date Created: 1940

Donor: Chris (Christine) J. Walley

Media Type: Booklet/Pamphlet

Language: English


Published in 1940, “Citizens” is a fictionalized account of the events of the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937. The novel was written by journalist Meyer Levin, who had been present on the day of the Massacre. During this landmark labor event at Republic Steel in Southeast Chicago, ten strikers were killed by city police and nearly 100 people wounded. The event occurred in the context of the Little Steel Strike. After the passing of the 1935 Wagner Act, steelworkers sought to unionize. Although US Steel agreed to recognize independent unions, so-called “Little Steel” companies, including Republic Steel, refused. In response, Little Steel workers struck nationally for the right to organize. On the days preceding the Memorial Day Massacre, strikers at Chicago’s Republic Steel mill attempted to set up mass picket lines, noting that Chicago’s mayor had stated that picketing was legal. Instead, police attacked and arrested picketers, eventually allowing a mere handful. In protest, strikers called for a rally on Memorial Day to support their right to picket without molestation. Sympathy strikers from neighboring Indiana and other Southeast Chicago steel mills came out in support, as well as family members, neighbors, individuals from other parts of Chicago, and journalists like Levin. A crowd of 1500 eventually formed in what many described as a “jovial” holiday atmosphere with sizeable numbers of women and children in attendance.

The violence began when the crowd moved to picket in front of the mill and were confronted by police. Police shot directly into the crowd and beat panicked and fleeing protestors with nightsticks. They also threw tear gas and used non-regulation clubs provided by Republic Steel. Police later claimed, without evidence, that “communists” intended to storm and take over the steel mill. After the Massacre, no attempt was made to offer first aid to victims. Many were thrown into over-crowded paddy wagons that then delayed taking the wounded to hospitals. This event would be one of the most deadly in US labor history. Detailed accounts can be found in testimony given to the LaFollette Commission appointed by the U.S. Congress. The event was deeply shocking to many and lived on in the public imagination, not only through Levin’s novel and paintings by artist Philip Evergood and others, but through yearly commemorations in Southeast Chicago

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Historic Events   Memorial Day Massacre   Mills   Republic   Steel Industry   Strikes   Unions   1920-1939 (Depression Era)   Other/Unknown   Other/Unknown   Booklet/Pamphlet   2017-019   Books   Labor   LTV Steel   Picketing   Police   Protests   Republic Steel  

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The Memorial Day Massacre

A story told through Museum objects saved by Southeast Chicago residents

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