Great Women All, Serving a Glorious Cause: Freda Hogan Ameringer's Reminiscences of Socialism in Arkansas

Article excerpt

ON MONDAY, APRIL 6, 1914, twenty-one-year-old Freda Hogan stood before an angry crowd of 2000 coal miners and supporters at a schoolhouse not too far from Prairie Creek Mine No. 4 in southern Sebastian County, Arkansas. The Bache-Denman Coal Company, the object of Hogan and the crowd's wrath, had just abrogated its contract with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), announced that Prairie Creek No. 4 and its six other mines in the area would operate on a nonunion basis, and begun bringing in scab miners from Johnson County, Tennessee, and heavily armed guards of the notorious Burns Detective Agency. Hogan, the principal speaker and a devoted Socialist, urged the crowd to forgo violence, but she also made it clear that the region's citizens and coal miners-all members of the UMWA-should not allow the company's actions to stand. The crowd appointed a committee, led by Hartford's Socialist town constable Jim Slankard, to meet with the managers, non-union miners, and guards at Prairie Creek No. 4 in hopes of convincing them to side with the local miners.1

Following the meeting, some 1000-1500 miners and supporters followed Slankard, his committee, and a brass band to the mine. There, discussions became heated, and, when a Burns guard struck a young boy with the butt of a gun, all hell broke loose. Non-union miners fled as the crowd disarmed the guards and assaulted the mine's manager and several of the Burns men. After flooding the mine, union supporters raised the American flag on the tipple and hung a banner declaring, "This Is Union Man's Country." For the next three months, an armed struggle raged with the miners, citizens, local law enforcement officials, and the UMWA on one side and, on the other, Bache-Denman's hired guards and U.S. marshals trying to enforce a federal labor injunction.2

Public support for the unionized miners-the majority of whom were Socialists-in southern Sebastian County was overwhelming. Merchants in the nearby towns of Midland, Hartford, and Huntington closed so that they and their employees could attend the meeting near the schoolhouse. A physician who joined the initial confrontation at Prairie Creek No. 4 even ignored pleas from an injured Bache-Denman foreman, insisting that he would not treat "a God damned scab." Constables and local law enforcement officials arrested Burns guards on a number of pretexts, and local juries imposed stiff fines. Writing about these events some eight years later when a civil suit arising from the confrontation made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Howard Taft-a man who had adjudicated more than his fair share of labor disputes-expressed astonishment at the widespread support that the union enjoyed in southern Sebastian County: "The vicinage was so permeated with union feeling that the public officers did not hesitate to manifest their enmity toward the non-union men [brought in from the outside]."3

Although much of western Arkansas was infused with anti-corporate radicalism of one sort or another, southern Sebastian County, with a few thousand unionized miners, formed the epicenter of the state's Socialist movement in the first two decades of the twentieth century.4 In fact, the entire region, including Oklahoma and parts of Louisiana, Texas, and Kansas, was a hotbed of Socialist activism, with Eugene V. Debs, the party's 1912 presidential candidate, receiving over 30 percent of the vote in several counties. Residents of towns like Hartford, Arkansas, and Girard, Kansas, regularly elected Socialist party candidates to municipal office, read Socialist newspapers, and welcomed party lecturers and dignitaries, including Debs, Mary "Mother" Jones, and Kate Richards O'Hare.5

Historians who have studied Socialism in the region have rightly emphasized the grassroots nature of this activism in order to rebut those who claim that Socialism and other forms of anti-corporate radicalism are alien to the American political tradition. …


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