Covington Hall writes of the heroic interracial struggle of Southern workers led by A.L. Emerson and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers against the the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, and in the aftermath of the Grabow Massacre.
“I Am Here For Labor” by Covington Hall from International Socialist Review. Vol. 13 No. 3. September, 1912.
“I AM here for labor and I will still be fighting for it, though I am killed.” These brave and splendid words are taken from a letter written by President Emerson since his arrest and imprisonment. His spirit is the spirit of all the other boys who have been jailed with him for the crime of resisting the in- famous tyranny of the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, which is the southern branch of the National Lumber Trust, the most shameless, most merciless, most lawless aggregation of gunmen and grafters fighting under the black flag of business today.
For years conditions in the southern sawmills and camps, rotten to begin with, have been growing steadily worse and worse until human nature could endure no more, and the workers revolted and began to organize. The beginning was made at Carson, La., on December 3, 1910, where and when Jay Smith, now general secretary, and A. L. Emerson, now president, organized. the first local union of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, the rapid growth of which caused the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, about six months later, or during July, 1911, to order the closing down of about forty mills in western Louisiana and eastern Texas in an effort to destroy the Union by lockout and starvation.
This lockout, the market for lumber then being dull, was not lifted until January and February, 1912, when, immediately, the struggle between the Union and the Association began again and was fought with increasing intensity, the Brotherhood steadily gaining ground, until, on Sunday, July 7, 1912, in a final ferocious effort to drive the workers back into the old meek submission to peonage, the lumber kings planned and carried out the massacre of Grabow.
Before and since the massacre, outrage on outrage has been committed on the persons of Union men and those suspected of working for or being in sympathy with them. At Zwalle, La., an attempt was made to lynch Organizer Wiggins of the Brotherhood, and only the prompt arrival of Union men and sympathizers saved his life. This dastardly outrage was committed by the thugs of the Sabine Lumber Company. At Elizabeth, La., a few months ago, a poor devil was taken into the office of the Industrial Lumber Company and beaten nearly to death because he was “suspected” of being an organizer, which he was not, never having had anything to do with the Brotherhood, and it was a thug of this company who attempted H. G. Creel’s life at Oakdale, La.; as it was General Manager Bridgewater of this concern, who several months ago unexpectedly assaulted President Emerson at Lake Charles, La., taking him unawares and knocking him down. At another town one of the Brotherhood organizers was seized by thugs, beaten nearly insensible, stripped naked and driven down the railroad track. At Strong, Ark., Organizer T. J. Humble was kicked and clubbed, his watch taken away from him and his suitcase plundered, then he was escorted out of town and told to “stay out under penalty of death,” and the next issues of the local papers denounced him for “trying to organize the negroes against the whites,” which last is a thing the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association is doing every day. Nor is this one-tenth part of the infamies that have been committed by the lumber trust’s managers, foremen and gunmen. These gunmen, commissioned as deputy sheriffs by the Democratic party officials, brazenly meet all trains, hold up whom they please, demand his life history, business, etc., and, if not satisfied, order him out of town; this they have also done on the public roads of the state, while these so-called officers of the law have led the mobs that broke up mass meetings of the Brotherhood, and, tho complaint was made on at least three separate occasions to the governor of Louisiana and to the sheriff of Calcasieu parish, against the acts of these “peace officers,” no attention was ever paid to the protests, which non-attention on the part of the authorities emboldened the gun- men and aided greatly in making the massacre of Grabow the success it was. Immediately following the indictment of President Emerson and sixty-four other officers and members of the Brotherhood, these man-hunters took up the trail of those who had not yet been arrested and confined in the black hole of Lake Charles, when Emerson and the first few were seized, and showed the zeal of blood hounds in their masters’ cause.
There, to that terrible prison at Lake Charles, that cesspool of filth and temple of inhumanity, the gunmen brought their prey, and there, as in its mills and camps, the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association made no distinction between its victims, for, white and black, they were thrown together, in the same room, in the same cell; there, as in the mills and forests, equality was forced upon the workers by the masters and not a word of denunciation did one hear from the local press about its horrors there; nor was a word uttered in denunciation of this “social equality” of the races by the “Democratic” press of Louisiana, Arkansas or Texas. It is only when the peons of the South are urged to organize and stand together on the job that this cry is raised, that we hear the harpies of the press shrieking at Humble and the others, and the gunmen damning and beating and killing them for the “crime of organizing the negroes against the whites.”
With one accord, led by such shameless sheets as the New Orleans “Times-Democrat,” the Houston “Post,” and the Beaumont “Enterprise,” the papers throughout this section have prostituted themselves to the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, have lied and pimped and pandered, done all and everything in their power to help these vampires drink the blood of Emerson and his associates.
Drunk with authority and power, long and brutally exercised, the southern oligarchy, now astonished and frightened at the resistance being made against it by the timber workers and working farmers, has thrown to the winds all pretense of respect for the laws, even those the most fundamental, and with the ferocity of fiends and cornered tigers, is hesitating at nothing in its mad effort to crush the Brotherhood of Timber Workers and maintain, in all its unvarnished cruelty, its economic-political supremacy. And this intention is proven by every act and deed that has been committed against the Brotherhood and its allies both before and since the packed grand jury at Lake Charles indicted all the unionists and released every mill owner and gunman brought before them and charged with complicity in the Grabow “riot.”
Private detectives are everywhere, and in the Timber Belt today we have practically a government of the people by a detective agency for the lumber trust. These social vultures, these spawn of Burns and Pinkerton, follow us on the trains, are in the mills, the camps, the forests, and even in the jail among the imprisoned workers, posing as martyrs to the sacred cause of human liberty!
Such is the hideous social system prevailing over the greater part of the South, today, a system that only madmen could conceive or hope to last, a system that is so cold and brutal in its denial of all human rights and liberties that it is shocking all real men and women into rebellion; a system that worships Mammon so thoroughly it is dying of its own corruption, expiring in its own filth, but, like Diaz, still butchering and murdering on its way to ruin.
The Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, and back of it the whole southern oligarchy this is the power the Brotherhood of Timber Workers and its allies are fighting today; this is the power that has its blood-stained hands on the throats of A. L. Emerson and his associates and that will drink the blood of sixty- five of the finest Union men and Socialists in the South today, unless the working class comes as one to their assistance and defense.
“Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing but your chains to lose! You have a world to gain!” Unite, and break, and break forever, the power of the infamous southern oligarchy!
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v13n03-sep-1912-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf