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This Week in People’s History, May 21–27

“Take Your War and Shove It!” (in 1969) |“The Shape of Jazz to Come” (1959) | The Battle of Toledo (1934) | No Taxation Without Representation (1764) | “Unite We Must” (1963) | Good Luck, Huddled Masses (1924) | Close Only Counts in Horseshoes (1918)

A thoroughly ransacked draft board office
Courtesy Washington, D.C., Historical Society

“Take Your War and Shove It!”

55 YEARS AGO, on May 21, 1969, three young men, Les Bayless, John Bayless and Michael Bransome, walked into a Selective Service System office in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they destroyed a large quantity of the draft board’s files by drenching them with black paint and human blood, overturned office furniture and threw two typewriters out of the office’s windows. After ransacking the place, they waited for, and surrendered to, the police. They gave the police and bystanders copies of a statement, which declared: “We poured out blood to symbolize America’s systematic destruction of life throughout the world. We accuse you, the American government, of mass murder in Vietnam and economic oppression.” The two older men were convicted of destruction of government property and sentenced to three years confinement. The third, who was 17 years old, was tried as a juvenile; the outcome of his case is not in the public record.

“The Shape of Jazz to Come”

65 YEARS AGO, on May 22, 1959, saxophonist Ornette Coleman. trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins recorded six of Coleman’s tracks that were soon released by Atlantic Records as “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” The hugely influential breakthrough album was one of the first entries in what soon became known as the free jazz movement. Its enthusiastic reception led to the quartet’s first gig in Manhattan, where they filled the Five Spot Cafe for an exceptional 10 weeks. You can listen to one of album’s trademark compositions,  “Lonely Woman,” here:    


The Battle of Toledo

90 YEARS AGO, on May 23, 1934, one of the most important successful strikes in U.S. history culminated in what is called the Battle of Toledo, 5 days of violent clashes between 1350 members of the Ohio National Guard and some ten thousand striking auto workers and their supporters. The strike took place in the earliest days of the effort to unionize U.S. heavy industry, which was then almost totally non-union. Union contracts in the automobile, steel, and electrical equipment industries were still years in the future, so the successful first effort to establish a union in the auto industry was nearly unprecedented. 

The strike’s target was Auto-Lite, a medium-sized producer of parts for the major auto manufacturers. On April 12, 1934, the United Automotive Union struck Auto-Lite, calling for union recognition and a 10 percent wage increase. Soon after the strike began, the American Workers Party, which had for years been organizing unemployed workers in Toledo, got involved by asking its supporters to join the union picket-lines. Despite court injunctions against the picketers, which resulted in some arrests, the number of pickets mushroomed. 

By May 23, some six thousand picketers, most of whom were unemployed workers, totally surrounded the plant, making it impossible for the strikebreakers inside to leave. At the request of the local sheriff, the Ohio National Guard dispatched 1350 troops with orders to make the plant accessible. The Battle of Toledo had begun. Over the next five days, troops and pickets repeatedly clashed outside the plant. The troops and police constantly brandished their guns and fired them into the air, but seldom fired them toward the pickets. 

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Two picketers were shot to death by the National Guard, and scores were wounded by gunfire and by tear-gas projectiles. The troops were able to restore access to the plant, but never succeeded in driving the huge crowd of picketers away. Finally, on June 2, management agreed to recognize the union and to a 5-percent pay increase. A week later, some 20,000 people celebrated the union victory by parading peacefully through downtown Toledo.

“No Taxation Without Representation”

260 YEARS AGO, on May 24, 1764, "no taxation without representation," one of the most important demands that led up to the American Revolution, had its first official expression. Seven weeks after the British parliament enacted the Sugar Act, which was the first law requiring the residents of the 13 colonies to pay taxes to Britain, the Town Meeting of Boston, which was the city's governing assembly, unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing the tax as an infringement of the rights the colonists had under their Royal Charter, which gave the colonists the right to govern and to tax themselves. The Town Meeting's position was reported to the Massachusetts Assembly with these words, which quickly became one of the foundations of anti-British sentiment: "For if our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and everything we possess or make use of? This annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves -- It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow subjects who are natives of Britain"…

“Unite We Must”

61 YEARS AGO, the Organization of African Unity was founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the objective of promoting the unity and solidarity of the African states, coordinating their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa, defending their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and independence, eradicating all forms of colonialism from Africa and promoting international cooperation. It did not achieve all of its objectives, but it succeeded in making major contributions to them. In 2002, the OAU was succeeded by the African Union.…

Good Luck, Huddled Masses

100 YEARS AGO, on May 26, 1924, the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 went into effect. In many (but not all) respects the law was a sharp departure from the existing U.S. policy concerning immigration. It banned all immigration from China, but that was nothing new. The U.S. had been excluding Chinese immigrants since 1882. The new law added a total ban on immigration from Japan, which was new. Also new were strict quotas on the number of people from specific countries who would be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. Under the law’s formula, immigrants from the British Isles, Scandinavia and Germany were most welcome, while immigrants from Asia, Italy, southeastern Europe and the Soviet Union were strictly limited. It was clearly a law to encourage the immigration of light-skinned people and also to reduce the number of immigrants from places where political radicalism was widespread, those who were not (according to the Secretary of Labor) “the kind [of worker that] the employer says he needs.”…

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

106 YEARS AGO, on May 27, 1918, Germany launched its last World War 1 offensive in what is called the third Battle of the Aisne. German troops broke through Allied lines and caused many casualties, but they failed to reach their objective, a strategically important ridge about 30 miles northeast of Paris. Before the advancing Germans ran out of steam, panic was widespread in Paris. The battle’s end marked the high tide of the German Empire.…