From the Chicago Public Library:
Early in 1886, labor unions were beginning a movement for an eight-hour day. Union activists called a one-day general strike in Chicago on May 1 of that year. Two days later a shooting and one death occurred during a riot at the McCormick Reaper plant when police tangled with the strikers. That evening a small group of anarchists met to plan a rally the next day in response.
The rally began about 8:30 p.m. May 4 at Haymarket Square, a open market on Randolph Street between Halsted and Des Plaines streets, but moved a half block away to Des Plaines Street north of Randolph Street. Speakers addressed the crowd from a wagon used as a makeshift stage. Mayor Carter Harrison joined the crowd briefly and then left. After 10 p.m., as the rally drew to a close, 176 policemen led by Inspector John Bonfield moved to disperse the crowd. Suddenly a bomb exploded. In the confusion that followed shots were fired. Policeman Mathias J. Degan was killed by the bomb, six officers died later and sixty others were injured.
Thirty-one well-known anarchists and socialists were arrested and named in criminal indictments, and eight were held for trial. Despite the fact that the bomb thrower was never identified, and none of these eight could be connected with the crime, Judge Joseph E. Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of them and the eighth was given 15 years in prison. The court held that the “inflammatory speeches and publications” of these eight incited the actions of the mob. The Illinois and U.S. Supreme Courts upheld the verdict.
On November 11, 1887, four of the men—Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel—were hanged. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison awaiting the death sentence. The sentences of two others were commuted from death to imprisonment for life. On June 26, 1893, Governor John P. Altgeld pardoned the three who were in the penitentiary.
After Altgeld became governor in 1893, the petitions for pardon that had been presented to and refused by his predecessor, Richard Oglesby, were again introduced. After reviewing the case, Altgeld granted a full pardon. In his remarks, he stated that the jury was selected to convict and the judge so prejudiced against the defendants that a fair trial was impossible.
Worldwide appeals for clemency for the condemned Haymarket martyrs led to the establishment of May 1 as an International Workers’ Day. Although May Day has been commemorated as a labor holiday in many countries, it was never adopted in the United States.
A more comprehensive description of the events is up at Lawyers, Guns, and Money (post by Erik Loomis):
On May 4, 1919, a quietly determined column of Peking students assembled in Tiananmen Square and marched through the capital. Distributing incendiary pamphlet literature and carrying pointed slogans, the students behaved quietly, arousing little notice among the officials. When they reached the home of pro-Japanese minister Tsao Ju-lin, chaos ensued. In the confusion that followed, Tsao escaped, Japanese minister Chang was beaten, parts of the house were burnt – and all of the students were received as heroes. Bystanders cheered as the students apprehended by late-coming police marched toward imprisonment. The Chinese press was delighted with them; the British Herald made much of Tsao’s “biting the dust.” (p. 348, The North China Herald) The demonstration planned to honor China’s “National Humiliation Day” would be remembered as one of the most important events in twentieth century China. Over three thousand intellectuals mobilized and struck a blow against those they perceived as China’s enemies – the students were doing more than just talking about revolution.
This “May 4th Movement” was so pivotal as a symbol of reinventing China is so important, its echoes were felt all the way through the events on June 3-4, 1989 in the same square. Its effect continues to be felt to this day.
From NPR, an article from a year ago:
Fifty years ago this month, a group of 13 men and women, seven black and six white, left Washington, D.C., on two buses bound for New Orleans.
They never made it. Ten days later, on May 14, 1961, one of the vehicles was attacked by a white mob in Anniston, Ala., the bus set on fire and the riders beaten up. The local police and state troopers made no effort to stop the violence, and the governor of the state, referring to the integrated group of passengers, sarcastically remarked that “you can’t guarantee the safety of a fool.”
That same day, the other bus pulled into the terminal in Birmingham, Ala., where it was met by a mob of 1,000 people who proceeded to viciously beat the riders. But as Freedom Riders, a stunning two-hour documentary being broadcast by PBS on May 16 at 9 p.m. EST (and reviewed by Stanley Crouch for The Root last year) demonstrates, these nonviolent activists never gave up — and, in doing so, managed to effect real change.
From the Kent May 4th Center:
MONDAY, MAY 4, 1970
At 11 a.m., about 200 students gathered on the Commons. Earlier that morning, state and local officials had met in Kent. Some officials had assumed that Gov. Rhodes had declared Martial Law to be in effect–but he had not. In fact, martial law was not officially declared until May 5. Nevertheless, the National Guard resolved to disperse any assembly.
As noon approached, the size of the crowd increased to 1,500. Some were merely spectators, while others had gathered specifically to protest the invasion of Cambodia and the continued presence of the National Guard on the campus. Upon orders of Ohio’s Assistant Adjutant General Robert Canterbury, an army jeep was driven in front of the assembled students. The students were told by means of a bullhorn to disperse immediately. Students responded with jeers and chants.
When the students refused to disperse, Gen. Canterbury ordered the guardsmen to disperse them. Approximately 116 men, equipped with loaded M-1 rifles and tear gas, formed a skirmish line towards the students. Aware of bayonet injuries of the previous evening, students immediately ran away from the attacking National Guardsmen. Retreating up Blanket Hill, some students lobbed tear gas canisters back at the advancing troops, and one straggler was attacked with clubs.
The Guard, after clearing the Commons, marched over the crest of the hill, firing tear gas and scattering the students into a wider area. The Guard then continued marching down the hill and onto a practice football field. For approximately 10 minutes, the guard stayed in this position. During this time, tear gas canisters were thrown back and forth from the Guard’s position to a small group of students n the Prentice Hall parking lot, about 100 yards away. Some students responded to the guardsmen’s attack by throwing stones. Guardsmen also threw stones at the students. But because of the distance, most stones from both parties fell far short of their targets. The vast majority of students, however, were spectators on the veranda of Taylor Hall.
While on the practice field, several members of Troop G, which would within minutes fire the fatal volley, knelt and aimed their weapons at the students in the parking lot. Gen. Canterbury concluded that the crowd had been dispersed and ordered the Guard to march back to the commons area. Some members of Troop G then huddled briefly.
After reassembling on the field, the Guardsmen seemed to begin to retreat as they marched back up the hill, retracing their previous steps. Members of Troop G, while advancing up the hill, continued to glance back to the parking lot, where the most militant and vocal students were located. The students assumed the confrontation was over. Many students began to walk to their next classes.
As the guard reached the crest of the Blanket Hill, near the Pagoda of Taylor Hall, about a dozen members of Troop G simultaneously turned around 180 degrees, aimed and fired their weapons into the crowd in the Prentice Hall parking lot. The 1975 civil trials proved that there was a verbal command to fire.
A total of 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds. Four students: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed. Nine students were wounded: Joseph Lewis, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Robbie Stamps, Donald Scott MacKenzie, Alan Canfora, Douglas Wrentmore, James Russell and Dean Kahler. Of the wounded, one was permanently paralyzed, and several were seriously maimed. All were full-time students.
Today is Star Wars day (say “may The Force be with you” with a lisp and you’ll know why – the actual release date was May 25th, 1977). I loved Star Wars (as a little kid I saw the second showing on release day), but I’m just can’t get motivated about “Star Wars day.” I’ll have a drink on the 25th though, and quietly remember staring at the one sheet in front of the theater wondering what those robotic-like guys in white armor were on the poster, while my parents were in line not far away. It’s important to remember these things, though not because they themselves are important. This world is complex and unfair and trying to ward off emotional numbness is difficult without the ability to occasionally feel a childlike joy now and again.
Other than that, I’ll just be keeping on as I usually do.
Not that this could be considered “serious” by any stretch of the imagination…