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Loren Roberts was a survivor of the Centralia Massacre incarcerated in the Walla Walla state prison.


"After the war ended, lawless force and violence came back, led by ex-soldiers, fomented by stay-at-home patriots, employers and their hirelings. Many violent scenes had occurred in 1918 and 1919. The Rand School in New York City was attacked by a mob of soldiers and sailors who tore down the American flag flying from the building. The Socialist daily paper, the New York Call, was raided and wrecked. Employees were driven out and beaten as they were forced to run the gauntlet of armed men. On Memorial Day, in 1918, the IWW hall was raided by paraders in Centralia, Washington, its records and literature burned in the street, its furniture wrecked or stolen. All who were found in the hall were beaten, arrested and driven out of town. The governor, the mayor, the chief of police and a company of National Guard were in the parade. The mob action was led by the president of the Employers Association. The hall looked like a war ruin. But the undaunted IWW opened another hall. They determined to defend themselves and their headquarters from further lawless attacks. Many attempts had been made to smash the Lumber Workers Industrial Union of the IWW, especially during and after the great strike of 1917 for the eight-hour day. Men had been beaten and jailed in Yakima, Ellensburg and other lumber towns. Rope, tar and feathers, and clubs were used time and time again. The Eastern Railway and Lumber Company controlled much of the lumber land, sawmills, railways and banks around Centralia. The head of this outfit, F. B. Hubbard, was also president of the Employer's Association. The American Legion had been organized in Centralia after the war and was in the forefront of the campaign to smash the IWW and imprison its members. A blind man, Tom Lassiter, made his living at a newsstand in Centralia. Among the papers he sold were the Seattle Union Record and the IWW paper, The Industrial Worker. In June 1919 the newsstand was broken into and everything taken out and burned. He was warned to leave town in a note signed 'U.S. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.' Later, when he refused to leave town, he was seized, beaten and dropped in a ditch across the county line. When he returned to Centralia, he was arrested under the criminal syndicalist law. All attempts of his lawyer, Elmer Smith, failed to bring the perpetrators of these outrages to justice, which emboldened the lawless elements in Centralia. The Employers Association continually incited its members to action by regular bulletins, proclaiming such slogans as 'active prosecution of the IWW; hang the Bolsheviks; deport Russians from this community; deport the radicals or use the rope in Centralia,' and similar sentiments. A Citizen's Protective League was organized which called meetings to discuss how to handle 'the IWW problem.' The police, the Elks and the Legion participated in these discussions. A secret committee, similar to the vigilante committees of the old West, was set up. The news leaked out that a raid was being planned on the IWW hall, and was discussed by Lewis County Trades Council. Some members from there warned the IWW of the threats. The IWW issued a leaflet, 'To the Citizens of Centralia We Must Appeal,' in which they recited the threats and accusations against them. It concluded by saying: 'Our only crime is solidarity, loyalty to the working class, and justice for the oppressed.' At a Legion meeting on November 6, the line of march for the Armistice parade was changed to pass the IWW hall and it was agreed that they would halt in front of it, make a swift attack and proceed with the parade. They voted also to wear their uniforms. The line of march was publicized. Walter Grimms, in charge of the Legion, replaced Commander William Scales who did not favor raiding the hall. Grimms was a veteran of the Siberian Expedition of the American army. He had attacked 'the American Bolsheveki—the IWW' in a Labor Day Speech. Elmer Smith, the IWW's lawyer, advised his clients: 'Defend the hall if you choose to do so—the law gives you the right.' For this remark he was subsequently charged with murder. Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, was the day of the parade. Some of the marchers carried coils of rope. At the words, 'Let's Go' the Centralia Legionnaires raided the hall, led by Grimms. Shots were fired from inside the hall as the invaders smashed doors and windows. Shots came also from a nearby hillside. Grimms was shot, at the head of the invaders. He died later in the hospital. A Centralia druggist, Arthur McElfresh, was killed. Wesley Everest, an IWW and a veteran of World War I, had done the shooting. Five of the IWWs left in the hall took refuge in an unused icebox at the rear, where they remained until they were arrested. Everest escaped from the back door, chased by the mob. He fired again as they closed in on them and killed Dan Hubbard, a veteran and nephew of the lumber baron who had instigated the plot and then planned 'to let the men in uniform do it.' Everest was kicked and beaten, a rope was put around his neck, and he was dragged senseless to the jail. In the night he was taken out and castrated and lynched, his swinging body used as a target for shot after shot. The next day the body was brought back to the jail and thrown in among the prisoners, then taken out and surreptitiously buried in an unknown grave-so the IWW could not take pictures of it, the authorities said. The men in jail were tortured and third-degreed to make them 'confess.' One, Loren Roberts was driven insane as a result. Lumber trust lawyers appeared as special prosecutors at the trial in Montesano, seat of Gray's Harbor County. A change of venue had been granted but it made little difference. Threats were made that the defendants would never get out of that county alive-if they were acquitted. The men on trial were ably defended by labor lawyer George W. Vanderveer. Two of the defendants, Elmer Smith and Mike Sheehan, were acquitted. Loren Roberts was declared insane. Britt Smith, O.C. Bland, James McInery, Bert Bland, Ray Becker, Eugene Barnett and John Lamb were found guilty of second degree murder. They were sentenced to from 25 to 40 years in Walla penitentiary. Not one of the mob who raided the hall, murdered Wesley Everest, or drove Roberts insane was ever punished. A 'labor jury' of six workingmen of AFL unions from Tacoma, Washington met on March 15, 1920, at the Labor Temple there and gave their verdict. It was that the defendants were not guilty; that there was a conspiracy to raid the hall on the part of the business interests of Centralia; that the hall had been unlawfully raided and that Warren Grimms had participated in that raid. During the trial, the courthouse was surrounded by soldiers who camped on the lawn, and jurors admitted later they were intimidated by the atmosphere. The court was full of Legionnaires in uniform from all the surrounding towns. Two years later, six jurors gave affidavits to Elmer Smith, who worked on the case until his death in the early 30's, stating their fears and asserting that if they had known the full story of the raid they would have voted to acquit the defendants. As it was, the jury recommended leniency, which the judge ignored. Some of the law-abiding elements in the Legion spoke out. Edward Bassett, an overseas veteran and commander of the Butte, Montana, post issued a statement before the trial, stating that the IWW were justified in defending their hall and that the Legionnaires disgraced themselves by becoming party to a mob. Ten years later, in 1929, the Centralia Publicity Committee issued a four-page leaflet called 'The Centralia Case' by an American Legionnaire of the Hoquiam, Washington, post of the Legion—a former U.S. Army captain Edward Patrick Hall—urging people to 'rectify a great wrong' by writing to the governor to release the innocent workers beginning their tenth year of imprisonment. He said, 'A short resume of the Centralia case shows that the Centralia Legionnaires were used by local business interests to eject the IWW. On Armistice Day, 1919, the workers' hall was raided before a shot was fired in self-defense. A gigantic frame-up followed, and the trial at Montesano bears all the earmarks of being an attempt at a 'lynching'.' Meetings were held on behalf of the Centralia victims for years. Leaflets were issued in 1919 by our Workers Defense Union in New York City and funds issued to the Centralia defense. One donation of $500 came from the Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. I spoke with Elmer Smith in March 1929 at the Seattle Civic Auditorium. I recall saying: 'If the IWW had raided a Legion Hall, imagine what heroes the Legion would be to shoot them down!' Elmer Smith died of cancer shortly afterward. The legal struggle was taken over by Attorney Irwin Goodman of Portland, a valiant civil liberties lawyer. Five men were paroled in 1936, after 17 years unjust imprisonment, and the others, who refused parole, were released a short time later. The Legion defiantly erected a statue to Grimms but the truth has prevailed, and the events in Centralia are now known as the murder of Wesley Everest and the frame-up of seven innocent workingmen."—Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography


The Tragedy of Sunset Land

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