According to folklorist John Garst, steel-drivin’ man John Henry, born a slave, outperformed a steam hammer on this date at the Coosa Mountain Tunnel or the Oak Mountain Tunnel of the Columbus and Western Railway (now part of the Norfolk Southern) near Leeds, Ala. Other researchers place the contest…
THE FORD HUNGER MARCH: On March 7, 1932, thousands of unemployed workers marched on the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford blamed the global economic depression on the poor, and said in March, 1931, "These are really good times, but only if you know it. . . The average man won’t really do a day’s work unless he is caught and cannot get out of it." The march resulted in the shooting deaths of five marchers at the hands of the Dearborn, MI and Ford Motors police. It became international news.
Scott Nearing, noted economist and lecturer visited Detroit at this time and gave a talk entitled, "Must We Starve," where he defended the Hunger Marchers. (see The Ford Hunger March, by Maurice Sugar, 1980). By 1932 Ford had become the richest man in the world. Nearing contrasted the attitudes of Ford, living at the Fairlane estate, and the needs of poor people living in Hoovervilles. All the while Ford refused to pay into an unemployed person’s fund. Ford had carefully cultivated an image over the years as the kindly inventor who upheld old-fashioned values. However, he was an enthusiastic backer of Hitler. A weekly newspaper put out by Ford, the Dearborn Independent, carried 91 installments of anti-Semitic and racist diatribes, all assembled in one book, The International Jew; it was a bestseller in Germany. Third Reich offices were filled with copies. Hitler kept a full-length oil portrait of Henry Ford in his office in Munich.
Protestors marched from Detroit to the River Rouge plant. Their signs read, "We Want Bread Not Crumbs," "Tax the Rich, Feed the Poor," "Free the Scottsboro Boys," and "Stop Jim Crow." At the Dearborn line, the crowd was told to disperse. None of the marchers was armed, but teargas and fire hoses were used on the crowd. Finally, the order to shoot was given – scores were wounded. Killed outright were Joe York, Joe DeBlasio, Coleman Leny, and Joe Bussell. When the dust had settled, dozens of marchers had also been injured. They were buried in Woodmere Cemetery. An African American man, Curtis Williams, died a short while later, but the cemetery would not allow an African American to be buried along with his comrades. They say his ashes were scattered over the River Rouge plant from an airplane.
BATTLE OF THE OVERPASS: On May 26, 1937, Ford Motor Co. security attacked union organizers and supporters attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, MI. To forestall union activity, Ford promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer, to head the Service Department. Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing. The most famous incident was a bloody brawl between company security men and organizers that became known as ‘The Battle of the Overpass’.
Walter Reuther and other labor leaders went to the overpass on May 26, 1937, that connected the front entrance of the complex to Miller Road. The UAW had arrived at the Ford Rouge complex to hand out informational leaflets and talk to workers about organizing. Over fifty union representatives, including many women, arrived at the plant to distribute circulars which cited the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and entreated workers to join the UAW. Walter P. Reuther, Richard T. Frankensteen, Richard Merriweather, Ralph Dunham, and Rev. Raymond P. Sanford among others arrived an hour before the change of shifts at the main entrance of the Rouge, Gate 4. Organizers were ordered to leave, but witnesses say before they even had a chance the attack began.
Frankensteen’s coat was pulled over his arms. He was then kicked in the head, kidneys, and groin. Witnesses also testified that as he lay on the ground, the attackers ground their heels in his stomach. Reuther was picked up and thrown down repeatedly and was kicked in the face and body. He was then thrown down the steps of the overpass. Merriweather’s back was broken, and Dunham was also severely injured. The attack was captured by news photographers; Ford’s thugs tried to destroy the pictures they’d taken that documented the attack. The photos that survived inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography.
Image: Unidentified UAW organizer is knocked to the ground and beaten by a group of Ford Service Department employees; Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen clean themselves up after being beaten and thrown down a flight of stairs by Ford Service Department employees. Wayne State U’s Walter Reuther Library.