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Memorial Day Massacre: Chicago Cops Killed 10 During 1937 Steel Strike, Then the Media Covered It Up

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: As Memorial Day weekend begins here in the United States, we end today’s show looking back at the largely forgotten 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, when police in Chicago shot at and gassed a peaceful gathering of striking steelworkers and their supporters, killing 10 people, most of them shot in the back. It was a time like today, when unions were growing stronger. The workers were on strike against Republic Steel. The police attacked them with weapons supplied by the company.
The tragic story is told in a new PBS documentary, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried. It based on book with oral histories of eyewitnesses of the attack. The film begins with the great radio broadcaster Studs Terkel.

STUDS TERKEL: This is 1937, and the labor battles are going on. The CIO is being organized. And the steelworkers and the packing, they’re all being organized. And the Big Steel, the big steel companies, finally agreed. They recognized the union. But there’s one company in Chicago, Republic Steel, Tom Girdler: “I will not recognize the union.”

And so there was a strike. Memorial Day 1937. And there was a picnic. Strikers and their wives and kids are on the grounds of Republic Steel in South Chicago. Someone threw a stone, and cops were there at the behest of Girdler. And they shot down 10 people, killed them, in the back.

JOSH CHARLES: In the days that followed, newspapers from coast to coast portrayed the incident as a riot provoked by a dangerous mob, which left police no choice but to open fire, with 10 dead within days. However, the key piece of evidence, the only film of the tragedy, remained buried. Paramount News created, then suppressed, a newsreel airing the footage. When the hidden footage was finally screened, the shocking images drew national attention, with vital lessons for today.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the opening to the new documentary, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried. This is another clip, when an eyewitness describes how the police attack unfolded. We hear from reporter Harold Rossman and Mollie West, who was a teenager when she attended the Memorial Day gathering in support of the striking workers.

MOLLIE WEST: We just walked. And people were talking and holding hands, and the children were being carried by their fathers on their shoulders. And everybody was laughing, and it was a joyous thing. And as we came closer to the mill, the walking slowed a bit. It seemed like the entire police force of the city of Chicago was out there. But that didn’t deter. We were still going to go over to the mill and just conduct a peaceful mass picket line.

HAROLD ROSSMAN: I could see a few objects through the air. I could see some things being thrown. Not much. It wasn’t a lot of stuff, maybe a couple of rocks. There was a dry, crackling kind of a noise. It took me a moment to figure out what it was, and I realized it was gunfire. And by that time, the people were falling. And they were turning and trying to run, and the gunfire continued. It was clear that a whole number of these people had been shot in the back. They were trying to flee, and they were still being fired at.

MOLLIE WEST: And then a whole number of people were piled up on top of me, and I could barely breathe. Also, there was tear gas. People finally began to get off, get on their feet. And when I finally stood up, and I — total bewilderment. I looked around, and I saw a battlefield.

AMY GOODMAN: The new PBS documentary, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, which just aired on PBS, is now online. It’s the latest project from longtime author and journalist Greg Mitchell, who’s written 12 books and made many films about U.S. politics and history.
Greg, welcome back to Democracy Now! This is a devastating documentary about a story very few people today know, what happened 86 years ago in Chicago. Take it from where we have just heard these eyewitness descriptions. How did this happen?
GREG MITCHELL: OK. Well, I’m happy to be here.
Yes, the police, in fact, shot 40 people, the vast majority in the back or in the side. Ten would die, within days. And then, they — as the film shows, they waded through the crowd, beating people over the head, sometimes with ax handles provided by Republic Steel. And so, there were another 50 people who were injured enough to be hospitalized. And then, again, as the film shows, the injured, instead of getting any medical treatment, were actually arrested and shoved into paddy wagons and taken to jail or taken to distant hospitals.
And this is all on the Paramount News footage, which was suppressed. So, we know the step-by-step things that happened. And you can watch —
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, your film is so good —
GREG MITCHELL: — almost all the Paramount footage.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, your film is so good, I want to go back to another clip from Memorial Day Massacre.

JOSH CHARLES: A disturbing new account of the death of one man emerged. A photo of Earl Handley being carried by police, seemingly for medical attention, had appeared in newspapers earlier. Now the full story came out.

Handley, a 37-year-old carpenter, had been shot in the thigh, so a worker tied a tourniquet on his leg to stop the bleeding. The Paramount footage showed him being hauled to a worker’s car for a quick trip to the hospital. After the camera stopped rolling, however, police yanked him out of the car and carried him to their paddy wagon, as his tourniquet slipped off, and he bled to death.

A doctor who treated some of the wounded presented autopsy reports proving that nearly all of the dead had been shot in the back or in the side.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is another clip from Memorial Day Massacre about how progressive Senator Robert La Follette subpoenaed the suppressed footage of the attack. This was the first time film was shown as evidence in a Senate hearing.

JOSH CHARLES: Senator La Follette announced that the footage would be screened at both regular speed and slow motion. Pointedly, he asked the top Chicago police officials to take a seat to view the film. This was reportedly the first time film footage had ever been introduced as evidence in Congress.

The reaction in the hearing room: gasps, some tears, but stony silence from the top police officials. The slow motion revealed a murderous new detail. Much of the press coverage the next day now flipped to blaming the police, although many news outlets now claimed that the camera could indeed lie.

NEWSREEL: What happened at South Chicago, Memorial Day, 1937.

JOSH CHARLES: Also the following day, Paramount, after burying the first two newsreels, at last released a film based on its footage.

NEWSREEL: The following pictures, made before and during the trouble, are shown exactly as they came from the camera, without editing — as presented before the United States Senate committee in Washington.

JOSH CHARLES: The newsreel claimed that the footage was not edited, but this was false. Actually, it omitted this crucial footage: the deadly first 15 seconds. So Paramount was still withholding evidence from the public.

AMY GOODMAN: Another excerpt of Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, the director, Greg Mitchell, with us. I mean, this story of what the public understood happened, with 10 people killed, talk about the role of the media, and the police working with it, whether the camera was shut off, as we saw in that first clip, or Paramount suppressing this, Greg.
GREG MITCHELL: Yes. The importance of it was, to me, the mass media, right up to The New York Times, was supporting the police story, that they had no choice but to open fire on this mob. And Paramount had the footage, had the evidence. They created a newsreel, and then they decided not to release it. They created a second newsreel and didn’t release that. And it took the being subpoenaed by the La Follette hearing, and the screening on Capitol Hill then forced Paramount to release a third newsreel. And even then, city officials in Chicago, in St. Louis, in Massachusetts banned its showing. So, even in its final form, it was not released in full.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Greg, in this last minute, why is Paramount so significant? People might not understand that today. And what is the most important lesson to take of what took place?
GREG MITCHELL: Well, you know, as you know, the movies were incredibly popular then. This was before television, so most people got their — certainly their visual news from these newsreels, which were shown in every movie theater at every movie showing.
I think the lesson, among other things, is the importance of visual evidence when there’s police shootings and police brutality, as we see today. That’s why there’s such a focus on releasing bodycams and dashboard cams.
Of course, another lesson is, with the great labor activity today, that they stand on the shoulders of the people from the past who sacrificed so much. And that’s why I’m happy people can watch this film right now on PBS.org, everywhere in the country. And, of course, the book has the oral histories of all eyewitnesses and many of the activists who were wounded.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell, director of Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried.
And that does it for today’s show. Thanks to Tia Potenza Smallwood and Susan Hughes here in Cambridge. Also thanks to Denis Moynihan and Hany Massoud. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

Spike Lee on “Malcolm X” & How Hollywood Almost Prevented Landmark Film from Being Made

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: The acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee gave the keynote address. He talked about the making of his 1992 film, more than 30 years ago, Malcolm X, as well as his family and the power of education. Just days after this event, Spike Lee’s father, the bassist and composer Bill Lee, died at the age of 94 at his home in Brooklyn. Bill Lee had a prolific musical career, performing with legendary artists including Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Odetta, John Lee Hooker and Bob Dylan. He also wrote the scores to many of his son Spike Lee’s films, including Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues. This is Spike Lee speaking last Friday.

SPIKE LEE: I’m not a keynote speaker. Come to say what I’ve got to say, and that’ll be it.

The most important book I ever read was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, seventh grade, Rothschild Junior High School in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, New York. Is Brooklyn in the house?

AUDIENCE: [cheering]

SPIKE LEE: All right. Is Harlem?

AUDIENCE: [cheering]

SPIKE LEE: All right. That’s it. That’s it. We’re not doing — that’s it. You know what, though? Can we have a moment of silence for Mr. Harry Belafonte? And Mr. Jim Brown, who passed today, too? Some of you might not have heard that. Jim Brown passed away today. Freedom fighters. That’s what they are. And they’ll be looking down on us, what we’re doing.

When I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in seventh grade, I wrote a paper on it. I got a C. You got to read that book more than once. And my mind was developed to the — what Brother Malcolm was putting down.

But I come from a long line of educators and “edumacated” Black folks. My father, Bill Lee, jazz bassist, who’s done a lot of the scores for my films, was a freshman at Morehouse when Dr. Martin Luther King was a senior. My classmate, the glocious class of Morehouse ’79, is Martin Luther King III. My father went to Morehouse, my grandfather went to Morehouse, and my mother and grandmother went to Spelman. So, we have to understand we have a long line of educated Black folks.

As you said, Sister, it was against the law for us to read and write. And, you know, the day we had off, on Sundays, that’s what we’d do, you know, reading the Bible. But if master caught you, you’d get whipped. And if we had a bad day, you’d be castrated and hung. Our ancestors risked their life because they understood that education was going to be the key. Our ancestors risked their life to be educated. We cannot let that go.

So, I’m just going to — I’m going to go to the film. The making of that film was the hardest thing I ever had to do. And the great Marvin Worth bought the rights from Dr. Betty Shabazz, way back. Way back. And for 20-something years, he tried to get it made — several directors, several — several actors. And finally, Norman Jewison was the director, with Denzel. And when I heard that Norman Jewison was directing this, I said, “Hell to the nah!” But here’s the thing, though. I respect Norman Jewison, because it was his job; he gracefully bowed out. He didn’t have to do that. And so, once we got that, I knew we had to do the film.

But from the very beginning, we didn’t have enough money. We didn’t have enough money. I put half my salary into the film. Warner Bros. knew it. We all knew it. But we’re just gonna go. I mean, this whole thing is — and, you know, in the studio system, you got to get them impregnated. So we knew one day the money would run out.

And Warner Bros. did not want the length of that film to be three hours. We knew — it was not about ego. To tell the many different lives that Malcolm led, we needed that time. We needed that time. And we went out — it’s crazy. We showed the four-hour version to Warner Bros. Four hours. We knew we’d cut it down, but… It was the day of the Rodney King verdict. So, we’re screening a film for Warner Bros. executives, the two presidents, and the secretaries are coming in and out, because L.A. is burning. But to their credit, they stayed throughout the whole four hours.

And so, it was a long discussion, because they had to — we had — I think a helicopter came to Warner Bros.’ lot and took them to where they had to go. And they said, “How long the film might be?” I said, “I need as long as” — I said, “How long is JFK?” Because JFK was coming out. And they said, ”JFK is two hours.” They didn’t know I know Oliver Stone. I call Oliver. I goes, “Oliver, how long is JFK?” He says, “Spike, it’s three hours, but don’t tell them I told you so.”

So we knew that we had to keep going. We did not cut the film, the length. And Warner Bros. let the bond company take over the film. All the people in postproduction got registered letters saying, “You’re fired.” As I said before, I already put half my salary already into the film. So it was the lowest point in my life, with the exception of my mother dying.

And Malcolm came to me: self-determination, self-reliance. I kept thinking about that again and again and again. What does that mean?

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I know some Black folks that got some money. So, this was the plan. Not did I only know them, but I had their phone number. So I made a list. And here’s the key thing. This was not — it was not — they couldn’t get any money back. It wasn’t a tax write-off. This had to be like, “Here, take it. Take it.”

And the first person I called was Bill Cosby. Called him up, said, “Bill” — first thing I said was, “How’s Camille?” Then I told him what it was about. He said, “Spike, I’ll put the check in the mail.” I said, “Nah.” I knew he lived in a townhouse, Upper East Side. Knocked on the door. Didn’t even come in. Snatched that check, ran to the bank before he could change his mind.

So I made a list. And I always get the order mixed up. A great woman, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, she wrote a check. Tracy Chapman. Janet Jackson. Prince. And then there were two left. So, here’s the other thing, though, is that every time they said yes, I was asking for more money, ’cause I was feeling it.

So, I had two people on my list. Called up Magic. Boom. And then the last call, the GOAT, who was born in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, not North Carolina: Michael Jordan, born in Cumberland Hospital on Myrtle Avenue, same hospital where Mike Tyson and Bernard King were born in, Bernard and Albert King were born. So, I mean, one thing about Michael, he don’t like to lose nothing. Very competitive. So I just let it slip how much Magic gave. Oh, oh, oh, Ms. Oprah Winfrey — sorry, sorry. She’s in there. I told you I get the — so I let Michael — I said, “Magic gave…” He said, “Magic gave what?” Boom!

So now we had the money, and I had the money to rehire the crew. And at this time, there was no talking between myself and Warner Bros., because Warner Bros. gave the film to the bond company. So, on this date, on Malcolm’s birthday, we had a press conference at the Schomburg Collection, Schomburg Library, 135th and Lenox. And we announced that these prominent African Americans wrote these checks. And the next day, Warner Bros. financed the rest of the movie. True story.

And the movie is because of Denzel Washington. Denzel had done an off-Broadway play, When the Chickens Come Home to Roost, many years. And there were many times when he was on camera that our skin was crawling because we saw Malcolm. It was eerie. It was eerie.

And there’s one scene — all the speeches were Malcolm’s speeches. And there’s one scene where you see Al Freeman Jr. as Honorable Elijah Muhammad behind him. And so, we’re looking at this — Denzel is talking. I’m next to my great cameraman, Ernest Dickerson. And we’re shooting film. So, there’s only 10 minutes in a roll of film. We were shooting 35 millimeter. So, Denzel is going. I’m turning a page. He’s killing it, killing it, killing it. And Ernest is telling me, “Spike, we’re about to roll out.” And then I see that — I’m reading the script, and this is where the scene is supposed to end, and he keeps going. And the stuff — we were all mesmerized. And finally, Ernest said, “We rolled out.” So I went over to Denzel, and his eyes were glazed over. His eyes were glazed over. Anybody who was there, we saw the spirit of Malcolm. The spirit of Malcolm came over Denzel.

But here’s the thing, though. Denzel, he started working on that role a year before we even began to shoot. Stopped drinking. No more swine. No pork was on his fork. We’re not talking about Shorty now. But learned how to pray, read the Qur’an. He devoted his life to that role. So, I’m not going to name no names. For a lot of these biographical films, you could put the makeup on and the hair, but that stuff is superficial. That performance happened because he put the work in. Denzel put the work in. And as Ilyasah said, it doesn’t seem like 30 years, but that performance gets better every year. And it was a great travesty that Denzel did not win the Academy Award for that role.

But let me break it down to you. In basketball, there’s a thing called the makeup call. Everybody know what that is? When a referee sees a call, they don’t call it, and then, the next time, boom. One of the greatest actors ever, Al Pacino — give it up for Al Pacino — he knew. He got nominated but did not win for Godfather, Godfather II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino ain’t no — he’s from the Bronx, too. Al Pacino is a… So, he didn’t win all those times. Denzel’s young. He’ll be back. He gets it. Denzel comes around again, Training Day, boom. But we can only — we can’t — here’s the thing as an artist. You cannot allow other people to determine — you know what I’m talking about, Sister. You know what I’m talking about. We can’t let other artists determine what our worth is.

So, in closing, I’m honored to be here. And we all love — oh, last thing. This is for you, my sister, Ms. Shabazz. You.


SPIKE LEE: Listen. Uh-oh. What does that mean? You took your glasses off.

ILYASAH SHABAZZ: No, I just put them on.


ILYASAH SHABAZZ: I just put them on so I can see.

SPIKE LEE: OK. It’s about your mother. During the preproduction of this film, I had several conversations with your mother. And she’s responsible for the best — the best — one of the best scenes in the film.

Ernest Dickerson, great cameraman, Ernest and I — he went to Howard, HU, you know. We came into NYU film school together. He went to Howard. I went to Morehouse. Boom. Ernest shot all my films at NYU, She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better, Jungle Fever, then Malcolm X. And we’s doing this thing called the double dolly shot, where it looks like someone’s floating. And so, before we did Malcolm X, Ernest and I said, “We have to — we just can’t be using that stuff to show off. We’ve been out of film school many years. We have to have a reason to use that shot.”

And Dr. Betty Shabazz told me that she felt her husband knew he was going to be assassinated right here. She told me that. And when Dr. Betty Shabazz told me that, that’s when I knew: That’s where the double dolly shot had to be. You know the scene. Sam Cooke. What’s he singing? “A Change Is Gonna Come.” That’s how that scene came to be. Dr. Betty Shabazz, thank you. Good night.

AMY GOODMAN: The Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, speaking last Friday at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, housed in the former Audubon Ballroom in New York, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Spike Lee was speaking on what would have been the 98th birthday of Malcolm X.
We come back, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried. We look at the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

“Education Leads to Liberation”: Nikole Hannah-Jones on The 1619 Project & Teaching Black History

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As attacks on the teaching of Black history escalate in Florida and other states, we turn to two of the nation’s most acclaimed storytellers: the Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee and the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project. They both spoke last Friday on the birthday of Malcolm X at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, which is housed in the former Audubon Ballroom in New York where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Last Friday marked what would have been Malcolm’s 98th birthday. We begin with Nikole Hannah-Jones.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I was a sophomore in high school when I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And it was one of those three transformative texts in my life. I could never see myself as a Black person the same after reading that text. A year later, I sat in a movie theater in Waterloo, Iowa, captivated by Mr. Lee’s brilliant storytelling in Malcolm X. And to this day, anybody who knows me —

SPIKE LEE: Just say Denzel Washington!

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Anybody who knows me knows that’s my favorite movie. I’ve watched that movie so many times. And I just was watching it recently on Delta. And if you going to the newspaper archives of The Waterloo Courier, you will see a young Nikole Hannah-Jones with the Malcolm X — the X medallion on, after I had led the walkout of my school demanding Black history be taught to all students at our high school.

So, I’m honored to be here with you tonight and to stand in this room, in this very room in 1964 where Malcolm X said, “Plymouth Rock did not land on us; the rock was landed on us.” Right? And I would never imagine that one day I would be standing here right now trying to tell the story of another ship that arrived a year before the Mayflower.

The same year I read Malcolm X’s book, I read another book by a historian called Lerone Bennett, and that book was called Before the Mayflower. And it told the story of not 1620, but 1619. And we know every American child learns that story of the Mayflower, and yet the story of another ship, called the White Lion, has been erased from the story of America, because we like to tell the stories that glorify our country, and we want to hide those ugly parts.

I realized at that moment, as a 16-year-old child, that history is not simply what happened on what day and who did it, but what powerful people want us to remember about what happened. And so, what we commonly call history is actually memory. And that memory in the United States has been shaped too often by white men in power who want us to remember the history of a country that never existed.

My work is to ensure that before you ever learn about the Mayflower in 1620, you’re going to learn about that ship in 1619 called the White Lion. You’re going to learn about our stories of resistance, of the contributions of Black Americans, and we will not be erased from the narrative of a country that our ancestors built.

So, to stand here in this very space, on this hallowed ground, is an incredible honor. I am honored to be here with all of the honorees tonight. And I think about that book 30 years ago, how my life has been inspired by Malcolm X, inspired by Lerone Bennett, inspired by all of the truth tellers.

And then we see why they’re trying to ban our history. Right? Because once you learn your history, you don’t accept your place. Once you learn your history, you challenge the way that power is wielded against the vulnerable. So that’s why they want to outlaw our history, because history will radicalize us. History will open our eyes. There’s a reason we’re the only people in the history of the United States for whom it was ever illegal to learn to read and write, because we know — right? — that education leads to liberation. And you can’t keep a people down who understand their history.

So, I promise you all tonight I will try to uphold the great legacy of one of our most ardent truth tellers, a man who stood up to power all across this nation. And as long as I have breath, they won’t bury our history. We will tell the truth. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project, speaking last Friday at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in New York at an event to mark what would have been Malcolm X’s 98th birthday.


Dr. George Friedman

Dr. George Friedman is a well-known geopolitical forecaster, strategist, and author. He is the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, a website that provides strategic analysis and forecasting on international affairs. Dr. Friedman has authored several books on international politics and security, including “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century,” “The Next…

Voice of Asheville

Dialed In

Davyne Dial has something to say and she’s well worth hearing. Here’s what she says about running a listener-supported community radio station:
“It’s a great way to spend your retirement. You’re going to learn a lot, you’re going to meet a lot of people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, you’re going to be contributing to the community…it’s a very enjoyable thing to do. It’s fun!”