May 1, 2012

The first May Day

  
Samuel Fielden, socialist, anarchist, labor activist and organizer, pictured above, testifying about what he saw at the Haymarket Affair, on the first May Day, during protests for an 8-hour work day:
"I spoke briefly and told them not to boycott the red flag as they had been advised to do, because the red flag was the symbol of universal freedom and universal liberty.

"I didn't speak very long about that, and I was just closing my remarks--I think I had just closed that part of my speech--when someone said 'It is going to rain.'


 "There was a very dark heavy cloud which seemed to be rolling over just a little to the northwest of me, and I looked at it and someone proposed to go to Zeph's Hall and finish the meeting there. Some one else said 'No, there is a meeting there.' And I said 'Never mind, I will not talk very long. I will close now in a few minutes, and then we will all go home.'

"I talked then a little longer. I think the last portion of my speech was advising them to organize into different organizations, to organize any way as laboring men; to organize for their own protection; not to trust to anyone else at all, but to organize among themselves and depend only upon themselves to advance their condition. Now, I was speaking in that way and I do not think I should have spoken one minute longer, when I noticed the police. I stopped speaking and Captain Ward came up to me, and he raised his hand--and I do not remember now whether he had anything in his hand or not--and he said: 'I command this meeting, in the name of the People of the State of Illinois, to peaceable disperse.' I was standing up, and I said 'Why Captain, this is a peaceable meeting,' in that tone of voice, in a very conciliatory tone of voice, and he very angrily and defiantly retorted that he commanded it to disperse, and called, as I understood--I didn't catch those words clearly--he called up the police to disperse it.

"Just as he turned around in that angry mood I jumped from the wagon and said 'All right, we will go,' and jumped to the sidewalk.

"This is my impression after being in jail now for three months, and I am telling it as near as I can remember it, very incident of it. 

"Then the explosion came."
Full transcript of the conspiracy trial, Illinois v. August Spies et al., available at ChicagoHistory.org.