Memphis Street Railway Strike – Part III

Final installment in a 3 part series – read the 1st installment here, and the 2nd here.

By William Novarese

At this point in the trial, the State had not proven that railway company upper level supervision had ordered any type intimidation or brutality be carried out against union supporting employees or the discharged employees. Nor that they had any involvement in circulating a letter for employees to sign regarding loyalty to the company.

W.L. Wilson, a discharged Motorman, testified he was assaulted near the car barn. He had been discharged a week before the confrontation. He stated that Broadfoot, Scarbrough, Berry, Russell and Dunlap surrounded him. Wilson said that Broadfoot had hit him several times and that Berry had hid a pistol under his coat and pretended to have taken it from him. He stated he didn’t have a pistol but he was wearing a scabbard.

On cross examination Wilson denied he was there to agitate men who were at work. Wilson also denied pointing a pistol at Dunlap. It was after he pointed the pistol at Dunlap that Broadfoot hit him with his pistol ordering him to keep his hands up. Broadfoot later denied he struck Wilson more than once.

The State concluded its testimony at noon on January 29th. Most of the testimony by the witnesses called was similar in nature. With a confession and signed statement by Dillon regarding the shooting, there was little need to press the details. The few witnesses called who testified to what happened the night of the shooting backed up the statements of others and Dillon as to what transpired on July 19, 1916. The question would be did the State make its case regarding the level of involvement by the other 12 defendants.

The next phase of the trial was in the hands of the Defense. The trial resumed at 2pm on the 30th.

The first act of Defense attorney R.H. Prescott was to ask for a directed verdict by Judge Puryear.  Attorney Prescott moved the court to give “Peremptory instructions to the Jury to acquit all of the defendants with the exception of Dillon”.

Attorney Prescott advised the court that the witnesses called by the State had testified that Dillon was the person responsible for the death of J.C. Benson and no one else. He further stated there was no evidence or charge of conspiracy and none of concerted purpose involving the other defendants that indicated they were involved in Benson’s death. Prescott stated that the State had not made a case that would in any way implicate the other 12 defendants.

He reminded the court that the Supreme Court had decided that the presence of a person during an unlawful act did not always infer that there was conspiracy to include them as part of the act or that they were part of the act.

The State had not offered proof of the involvement of any other individual in the death of Benson except Dillon. Prescott stated the testimony regarding the various fights in which many of the defendants and others not on trial were involved in also did nothing to implicate them in Benson’s death. He also stated to the court that the State had failed to show that the street railway company had any part in organizing a riot or any of the other confrontations.

After hearing Attorney Prescott’s motion, Judge Puryear stated it was the rule of the court that if there were any proof, the entire issue would have to be decided by the Jury. Since there was some proof that the 12 defendants were present and some proof that they all were armed, it would be left for the Jury to decide what part, if any, they played in the disturbance that ended with J.C. Benson losing his life.

The first defendant called to the witness stand by the defense was W.A. Dillon. Dillon was 31 and had lived in McNairy County before he came to Memphis 6 years earlier and began working for the Memphis Street Railway Company.

Dillon testified that he was pulled off his run on July 18 and told to report to Charlie Berry. He said Berry pinned a Police Officers Star on him and told him he was to watch the area around the car barns and try to keep trouble down. He was told not to get involved himself but if he saw others causing a disturbance to arrest them and call a patrol wagon to pick them up. He was told that it did not matter which side they were on.

Dillon said he was not involved in any other fight except the one with Benson. His testimony was the same as the story he told since the night of the fight and shooting.

Dillon testified he was off duty the night of the fight and walked from the car barn to Vance and Walnut to catch a car to go home. When he arrived at the intersection, he saw what looked like a fight in progress near the pool hall. He crossed the street and walked toward the fight with the intention of breaking it up.

As he walked into the group of men fighting he was struck in the back three times. He turned and saw a man with a knife. Dillon pulled his gun and told him to back off. When he did not Dillon stated he fired three times. As he fired Benson wheeled around and the two shots that struck him, entered through his back. He stated he fired without taking aim and did not know if he hit him. The first shot apparently missed.

Dillon stated he was not involved in the fight in any way except that he happened on it and was attempting to stop it.

Several other witnesses were called, including Dr. C.E. Duvall, Bensons attending physician. He testified as to the dying statement and that Benson told him the first shot knocked him down and the second was fired as he was falling. No third shot was mentioned.

A Barlow knife owned by Benson was found by Police in a room he rented on Cossett Place. The Barlow knife was dirty and dull. Dillon stated the knife in the hand of the person who stabbed him was bright and shiny.

Court was adjourned during cross examination. Dillon was to continue his testimony the next morning.

Dillon was back on the stand the stand when the trial resumed. His bloody clothing was shown to the Jury and submitted as evidence.

After Dillon testified, A.S. Keywood, one of the defendants, took the stand. Keywood had approached the Attorney General’s office on about August 31, 1916.  He had a signed statement he gave in the office of Anderson & Crabtree regarding his activities, the fight and the shooting.

Keywood was questioned by the State attorneys regarding the statement. He hoped to buy some grace for himself by turning states evidence. He was also hoping at the time he gave the statement that it might help him get into the union.

At the time, it was believed you could not work for the unionized railway company if you were not a member. The closed shop portion of the demands was dropped from the agreement between the railway company and the union. By the time the dust settled it had become a non issue, but, Keywood thought his statement might still work to benefit him in the trial.

Keywood testified he was taken off his rum and told he was to help guard the Railway property. The company offered him no arms and it was understood that he was supposed to help keep down trouble and not instigate it.

On July 19 at about sundown, Scarbrough told Keywood he was an officer and showed him his star (Badge). He asked Keywood to go with him to the scene of a disturbance. Keywood said he agreed to go as long as he did not have to fight anyone.

Vance looking east toward Walnut.

When they arrived at Vance and Walnut they attempted to find out who had beaten up Cuff. Shortly after this Grooms and Benson came out of the McGee Pool room. A special Officer named Billy Smith struck Grooms over the head with a rubber hose. Another man joined and they continued to attack Grooms.

Dillon was crossing the street and approaching the fight. Just as he walked up, Keywood saw Benson following him and then saw him plunge the knife into Dillon’s back. He stated they whirled around and Dillon was seen with his hand raised, two shots fired immediately.

Keywood went on to testify that he was told to not let strangers hang around the barns when on duty. He said he had witnessed two fights. He was later selected to watch Ben Commons. He was told no Commons was not to be a victim of violence. Keywood said he was told to watch Commons and keep track of who came in contact with him and of his movements.

Four of the defendants denied they were present at Vance and Walnut when the fight and shooting occurred, C.W, Stagna, Hiram G. Hines, Walter Hendron, and E.T. Broadfoot. Keywood and Jesse Lytton admitted they were present but denied they participated.

Stagna testified he was on duty and was not relieved until 7:45 pm. Hines was discharged four days before the shooting and testified he was not at the scene. He was arrested by detective Hoyle after being pointed out but did not know why at first. Hendron said he was at Dodson’s Barber shop at 7:00 pm. He was about to leave when another employee came in and told him what happened. Broadfoot testified he was in the company office on the third floor of the Memphis Trust Building when the incident was called in by telephone. Broadfoot said he and Berry took a taxi to the barn.

Lytton had been at the Y.M.C.A. reading and had just walked out. Conductor 407 pointed out to him the disturbance at Vance and Walnut. He walked that way and saw Grooms fighting with another man . As he arrived he saw a man come out of the Poolroom with a knife in his hand and he saw him open it. As Dillon crossed the street the man walked up behind Dillon and stabbed him in the back. He said he saw Dillon turn and start shooting. Lytton testified he was not involved in any fight or altercation.

The remaining six defendants would all be called to the stand later in the afternoon. Five of the defendants would give testimony establishing their whereabouts at the time of the shooting. Corroborating witnesses were called to back up their testimony.  Defendant Tom Scarbrough would tell a different story regarding his involvement.

Scarborough’s testimony shed light on some of the confrontations and fights between non union men and those discharged for union activity.

According to Scarborough’s testimony, Commons began spreading a series of rumors intending for them to get back to the upper level management. These rumors were spread by men sent into the ranks, current employees and those discharged for union activity. Commons believed the rumors would result in a larger number of men being discharged for union activity and these men would in turn be easy to recruit into the union ranks. The rumors created high levels of uncertainty and confusion among current employees and those discharged.

Scarbrough testified that the attempt by the state to place blame for the fight and shooting on the railway company management, by assumption and inference, did not stand up. He said the fight that led to Benson’s death was the culmination of a reign of confusion and uncertainty created by rumors, initiated by Commons, among the railway company employees intended to divide them.

Scarbrough said he had known Commons for several years prior to his arrival in the Bluff City. When Commons first came to Memphis, Scarbrough met with him. Commons told Scarbrough how he intended to cause unrest among Railway Company employees and then call for a strike. Things eventually worked out as Commons planned. Divide and conquer.

Scarbrough also testified that he had come to Memphis in 1907 to work for the Memphis Street Railway Company. He took a job as a motorman, but in truth he was a detective employed by the Thiel Detective Agency of St Louis. He remained on the payroll of the detective agency throughout the time he had lived in Memphis.

He was told ahead of time that Commons would come to Memphis and he intentionally renewed his acquaintance with him once he arrived in the city. He met with him often during the union organization of the railway company.

Scarbrough discussed the union organization with Commons often and he tried to discourage him from moving forward with it.

Scarbrough stated the railway employees were angry on both sides of the issue. Charlie Berry gave him a police star (Badge) that had been issued by Police Chief O.H. Perry. Berry was to issue the badges to people to assist in maintaining order and protecting company property.

His description of the shooting was basically the same as all the others. Scarbrough said he saw Benson stab Dillon in the back and watched as Dillon pulled his hand gun and fired at Benson. The first shot according to Scarborough’s testimony, was fired while Benson was facing Dillon, the next two were fired after Benson ran.

Scarbrough also stated he saw Billy Smith and J.O. Grooms fighting for control of a rubber hose after the shots were fired. He walked over to them and took the rubber hose out of their hands and separated them, stopping the fight.

Defense attorneys advised the Court that they only had six more witnesses to call and would be finished by noon on Monday February 5th.

Closing arguments began on Saturday morning, February 3rd. Judge Puryear limited arguments to three and one-half hours per side. Attorney John Brown opened for the State.

His argument followed the same course set by the State during the trial focusing on the Railway Company. He stated that the railway company had intent to do whatever it took to stop the organization of a union. The company formed the group of special officers in order to carry out their intent. Brown stated he did not believe the testimony of those who accused Benson of stabbing Dillon and that he believed Dillon was stabbed by his own friends. Brown contended that the stabbing was a “frame up” an excuse for the shooting of Benson orchestrated by the special officers.

Defense attorney Magevney spoke next. He explained to the Jury that the Management people of the Street Railway Company realized the negative effect the division and disharmony had on the company and its personnel. They were aware that it was detrimental to the company and the community and they used every effort to prevent disorder.

Mageveny stated a representative of the company approached the Chief of Police and asked for a detail, a request that was turned down. They requested the use of badges to deputize men for security and protection of property. That request was granted.

The night of the shooting Superintendant E.W. Ford was at the Mayor’s office asking for assistance with the situation he believed to be serious. Mr. Ford and all other company officers had counseled obedience to the law when addressing employees regarding the union and events surrounding its organization.

Defense attorney Magevney told the Jury that General Brown’s theory of the manner in which Benson was killed was “out of harmony with human experience”. “The acceptance of General Brown’s theory would be a reflection upon civilization in general”.

The trial concluded for the day with the end of attorney’s argument. It would resume on Monday the 5th.

The summations continued on Monday with defense attorney R.H. Harrison. He went longer than expected and defense attorney R.H. Prescott did not finish until 4:00 pm. Both defense attorneys repeated their stance that there was no conspiracy and no acting in concert on the part of the defendants.

Attorney Prescott stated that at time it may have seemed like the Street Railway was on trial with the defendants, it was not the case. The Street Railway Company was not on trial and this trial was criminal and not civil. The 12 defendants were charged with having shot J.C. Benson with “A pistol loaded with powder and ball”.  This was the wording of the charge as it was written in State Law at the time. This part of the law was there to show intent to cause bodily harm or death.

Mr. Prescott further stated to the Jury that General Wilson should have brought an indictment against the railway officials if he wanted to put them on trial.

General Wilson responded by saying he intended to do just that in the future. General Wilson spoke briefly and Court was adjourned for the day. The State would resume its argument the next morning.

General Wilson continued his argument the following morning. He said the men from the railway company who went to Vance and Walnut were “conspirators” who intended to “beat up and probably kill Benson and Grooms”.

The defense contended that the men from the railway company had no premeditated intention to fight and the reason for the fight was a meeting of unfriendly crowds.

The truth actually lay somewhere in between. 

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday February 6, 1917, Judge Puryear charged the Jury. He gave them instruction and they were told that if Dillon is acquitted all the others must also be acquitted and a verdict against Dillon would not necessarily go against the all other defendants.

The Judge advised the Jury they could convict for murder in the 1st degree, murder in the second degree, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

The Jury retired at 3:10 pm and deliberations began.

The next day at about 2:00 pm the Jury advised the Judge it had reached a verdict. The defendants were summoned and the verdict was read.

Eight of the thirteen defendants were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Five were acquitted. The names of those convicted and those acquitted came as a surprise to many in the courtroom.

Convicted were W.A. Dillon, Tom Scarbrough, Jesse Lytton, Ned Russell, E.O. Dunlap, S.J. Smith, Walter Hendon and B.F. Cuff. All of the convicted were non union men who have since joined the union. All but one acted as a special officer for the railway company.

Acquitted were: A.S. Keywood, Guy Himes, E.T. Broadfoot, S.S. Stagna and R.S. Wiseman.

It was difficult to find consistency in the Jury decision. Many of those convicted were present but not involved. Keywood and Wiseman were acquitted but were present and witnessed Benson being shot but were not involved in the fight. Stagna claimed to be on the Normal School car but assisted officers in locating several of the suspects on the night of the shooting. Guy Hines was not present and had a solid alibi for his whereabouts. Broadfoot was acting as a special Officer but was not there when the shooting occurred. He was at the railway officer at Main and Madison. All of those acquitted had alibi’s that were backed up by witness’s testimony that was not questioned. All but Wiseman testified as to where they were at the time of the incident.

Scarbrough stated he was told there was trouble and went to suppress it. He was accompanied by Keywood. Scarbrough admitted he separated Smith and Grooms after taking away a rubber hose they were fighting over. Lytton and Russell stated they heard about the fighting and went to see what was happening out of curiosity. Dunlap swore he was at a boarding house several blocks away.

Hendron was at a barber shop near the location. His testimony was backed up by the Barber. Smith, Cuff and Wiseman did not testify.

The case was now in the hands of Judge Puryear. His task would be to decide punishment. A sentence of two to ten years was possible.

The States attempt to incriminate the street railway management had clouded the issue. It was a successful strategy. The testimony of middle level managers urging the use of force to remove anybody who entered a car and talked about the union had a strong effect.  Special officers urging men to go armed. The special officers all armed themselves for the most part. The several fights between the two sides of the issue and the use of weapons in some of those altercations, created a sense of the use of force as opposed to negotiation. Probably the use of violence to remove union sympathizers was mostly talk.  There is no evidence it ever happened and none that upper level management was involved, but it had its effect on the Jury.

The defense immediately filed a motion for a new trial and an option to appeal to the Supreme Court. Judge Puryear postponed sentencing until the motion could be heard. The date set for hearing the motion was February 17, 1917.

Tom Scarbrough was too ill to testify at the motion hearing. He became sick just before the end of the original trial and had not recovered. The hearing of the motion was postponed until March 10, 1917.

The new motion finally reached court on March 17, 1917. It contained several issues. A new witness was found. A Mrs. Shirl Dettor signed an affidavit regarding what she saw the night of July 19, 1916 at Vance and Walnut. She was riding a Vance Avenue car and witnessed the shooting. Her affidavit states Benson was the aggressor.

In the motion for a new trial, the defense argued that the charge itself, involuntary manslaughter, was in itself a charge that had no predisposition of conspiracy in its definition.

Involuntary manslaughter was a charge used for a homicide that was committed in the heat of passion or the heat of the moment and not premeditated or conspired. The 12 separate parties who were not directly involved in the death of Benson could not be convicted on the charge of involuntary manslaughter as there was no plan of action that singled Benson out. Bensons companion J.O. Grooms was a victim of members of the group who came down from the car barn but he was not killed or seriously injured. The action occurred between W.A. Dillon and J.C. Benson in which action Benson was clearly the aggressor based on witness testimony. Given this information the 12 defendants not including Dillon could not be guilty of involuntary manslaughter as there was no conspiracy indicated.

The defense also stated that Benson was not being attacked at the time he stabbed Dillon and that he placed himself in the fight and struck Dillon first. The attack was initiated by Benson and there could be no conspiracy against him.

The qualification of one of the jurors was questioned by the defense. A juror was not allowed to serve if he had served within the last year. One of the jurors a Mr. J.S. Nelson had sat on a Jury in April of 1916. Mr. Nelson was present and prepared to testify regarding his last jury service. The state conceded he was ineligible for jury service at the time he sat on the Dillon jury.

On March 24, 1917, Judge Puryear denied the defense motion asking for a new trial and upheld the conviction of all eight defendants.

All eight were sentenced to serve two to ten years in the state penitentiary. The 10,000 bond was made by all defendants pending their appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Judge Puryear gave an indication he might rule in favor of three of the defendants, two of whom had alibis and another who was present but not involved. But, he did not.

The States contention was that the others although not directly involved in the death of Benson aided and abetted in the death of Benson by their presence. The fact that they went to the area for the purpose of beating up a person who had attacked one of their special officers, B.F. Cuff, and even though they stood around and were not involved, they aided and abetted by their presence. According to the state, this act on the part of the other 12 showed them to be guilty of concert of action involving the death of J.C. Benson.

In the case of W.A. Dillon, it was decided that with or without provocation, Benson attacked Dillon and was shot in the back twice as he turned to run. The gist of the matter was that had the others not gone to Vance and Walnut looking for the person who assaulted Cuff, and assaulted Grooms, the attack by Benson on Dillon would not have happened.

The defense had argued in Dillon’s case that by definition involuntary manslaughter was an act committed in the “Heat of the moment without malice or deliberation”. Therefore those convicted in all cases with the exception of Dillon would be entitled to an acquittal. In Dillon’s case he contended self defense.

The defense contended that the Jury’s verdict was not supported by facts and was the result of, “passion, prejudice, and caprice” and partly the result of, “inflammatory argument by the Attorney-General,” and “prejudicial matter” submitted in evidence; the arraying of, “capitol against labor and unionism opposed to unorganized labor”.

The defense argument in the case of juror J.S. Nelson was ruled by Judge Puryear to not be a factor and did not warrant a new trial.

Judge Puryear’s ruling said in effect that even though the group did not go to Vance and Walnut with the intent of taking the life of J.C. Benson or any other person, they were bent on an unlawful design. The reason they went was to intimidate or chastise another person or persons and they were responsible all consequences that arose from their concerted purpose no matter what their initial intentions were.

The case would move on to the State Supreme Court.

As the criminal trial ended the civil trial in Federal Court against the Memphis Street Railway Company was in the process of Jury selection. The suit, brought by W.P. Benson, the brother of J.C. Benson, asked damages in the amount of $50,000 . The suit alleges Benson’s death at the hands of W.A. Dillon was the result of actions by men appointed as special officers by the Memphis Street Railway Company.

Another Federal Court suit in the amount of 10,000 was filed by J.O. Grooms. He alleged injury at the hands of the special officers appointed by the railway company. This suit was put off by the Judge until the next term due to his having other cases to try out of Memphis.

The W.P. Benson trial began on February 12, 1917.  The attorneys for the plaintiff called several witnesses. Testimony was given of fights between union and non union men and the suggestion of using violence against union sympathizers by middle level railway management. It was alleged by the plaintiff’s attorneys that railway management plotted against union supporters.

The testimony followed the same pattern as it had at the trial of W.A. Dillon and the other 12 defendants that was just concluded. The goal in the suit was not to fix guilt but to show conspiracy by the railway company.

The attorneys for the plaintiff closed their case early on the 12th.

 The President and General Manager of the Memphis Street Railway Company, Thomas H. Tutwiler took the stand a 2:00 pm. He was questioned at length about company policies and actions of his company regarding union activity.

Mr. Tutwiler stated he was opposed to the union and did not believe it was needed or wanted by the employees. He cited union organizer Ben Commons as an agitator who came to Memphis and initiated the union activity. His opinion was that there was a good relationship between employees and the railway company and a union was not wanted or needed. He did not believe the majority of employees wanted a union until the strike.

The attorneys questioned Thomas Tutwiler in regards to the special officers. Mr. Tutwiler gave testimony that many of the special officers who were appointed, volunteered. Tom Scarbrough, one of the special officers, was hired from the Theil Detective agency in St Louis. He was employed as a motorman and also collected information about employees for employers. He was employed by the railway company for nine years. Charles Berry, also a railway company employee was a deputy sheriff and was put in charge of the special officers used as guards around the car barns. Mr. Tutwiler stated that none of the attacks Berry was named in by witnesses were ever brought to his attention.

Motorman Joe Scott testified he was called to the office of Superintendent Foster. Scott was asked if he had joined the union and he said he had not. Scott testified that Foster had told him to, “Knock anyone in the head who talked about the union with him.”

Attorneys for the plaintiff submitted several affidavits from railway company employees who could give testimony regarding instructions to use violence from street railway officials. Some of the affidavits were regarding witnesses to assaults and others who witnessed the shooting. These affiants were not called but were available for testimony.

The defense called a large number of witnesses including the Officers of the street railway company. Superintendent of Transportation James Foster and ten inspectors testified. Charles Berry and a number of men who served as special officers also took the stand. The defense, attorney Luke E. Wright and McKinney Barton,  attempted to disavow the charges by the plaintiff of a conspiracy to frighten, intimidate and use force towards union supporters to prevent them from forming a union.

Closing arguments were completed on Friday February 16, 1917. The Jury was charged by Judge McCall and began deliberations at aroun12 noon.

At noon the following day, the jury completed deliberations and returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $7,250. The suit was brought for $50,000. In today’s dollars the settlement of $7,250 would be close to $75,000.

The defense served notice it would seek a new trial.

A new trial was granted in the Federal Court suit of W.P. Benson vs The Memphis Street Railway Company and scheduled for June 25, 1917. A request to continue the case of W.P. Benson and J.O. Grooms was granted and both suits were put off until late fall of 1917 then were again continued until February 1918.

On February 20, 1918, the second trial of the suit filed by W.P. Benson began. Again a large number of witnesses were called, over 100.  Anderson & Crabtree represented the plaintiff and Luke E. Wright,  McKinney Barton Jr. and Frank Egan for the defense.

Testimony of witnesses took the same path as in the previous trial. The plaintiff’s attorneys attempting to show a conspiracy existed on the part of the railway company to threaten and intimidate union sympathizers. The defense put on witnesses and evidence that the railway company was not complicit in any violence or threats that occurred. The defense calling more witnesses in the second trial than the first.

On Thursday February 21st, the attorneys asked for an instructed verdict to the Jury.

This is also referred to as “The rule”,. It means all witnesses will be asked to leave the courtroom and not hear or have any knowledge of the testimony of other witnesses before their testimony is given. Attorney Luke E. Wright argued that if the rule is imposed the testimony of several of the plaintiff’s witnesses, who had already testified, be stricken from the record. The Judge overruled the motion by the plaintiff’s attorneys and the trial continued.

The defense had approximately 50 witnesses to give testimony. Court adjourned at noon on the 22nd with testimony to continue on Saturday the 23rd ad 10:00 am.

An unfortunate event occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday the 23rd that would affect testimony in the trial.

One of the witnesses, Officer Edward T. Broadfoot was scheduled to testify first on Saturday the 23rd at 10:00 am. Broadfoot was an employee of the railway company during the union organization and was one of the special officers. He was also one of the men who had received a Star (Badge) provided by the Police Chief O.H. Perry and granted arrest powers. Once the strike was settled he was rehired by the Memphis Police Department.

Broadfoot was acting as a special officer on the night of the fight and shooting death of J.C. Benson. He was implicated in the incident and indicted for involuntary manslaughter with the other 12 defendants. During the trial, testimony proved he was at the railway offices at Main and Madison when the shooting occurred and was not at the scene until well after. He was subsequently acquitted and returned to work for the Memphis Police Department. 

Officer Broadfoot and his partner Officer L.C. Dowdy, were on patrol in the 10th ward early in the morning of February 23, 1918. At approximately 1:30 am they stopped to do a routine check at the Preferencia Café at 529 S Main Street.

Prohibition was in effect in Tennessee and the sale of alcohol was illegal. Pressure was being applied to the Memphis Police from Sheriff Perry who was himself under pressure from the Federal Authorities to enforce prohibition. People in Memphis generally ignored prohibition and continued to manufacture illegal liquor and Beer. It was very lucrative and the illegality of it made it more desirable.

The 10th ward was a busy area for the sale of illegal liquor. Two of the busiest train stations were located in the ward. Central Station was located at Main and Calhoun and Union Station at Rayburn (Third St.) and Calhoun (G.E. Patterson). Two blocks separated the two stations.

The Police department received information that bootleggers were hiring black males to fill a suitcase with their illegal liquor and walk around the stations appearing to be travelers. They would sell the illegal liquor out of the suitcase and continue to walk in the area. Officers were ordered to check as suspicious persons carrying suitcases who appeared to not have a destination.

The Preferencia Café was open until late. It was owned by two Italian immigrants, the Demarche Brothers. There was no particular law against blacks and whites frequenting the same establishments. That is always assumed, but it was not so. It was up to the business owners and it was allowed at the Preferencia Café.

As Officers entered the business, they saw two black males sitting at a table towards the rear of the restaurant with a suitcase on the floor next to the table. Broadfoot and Dowdy approached the table where the two men were seated one of them got up and tried to walk away. Dowdy stopped him and began to pat him down for weapons. Broadfoot stepped towards the table, about two steps, and ordered the second male to remove his hands from his pockets. As the man removed his hand from his coat pocket he was holding a small handgun. He immediately began firing at Officer Broadfoot without warning. Three shots struck Broadfoot. The third entered his forehead above the right eye and the Officer went down.

Dowdy quickly pulled his gun and attempted to shoot at the armed male but his gun either misfired or malfunctioned. The male at the table turned his gun on Dowdy and fired four times. The first two shots hit Dowdy in the arm and side the third struck the male who had been sitting with the gunman at the table in the side of his chest. The fourth shot hit Dowdy in the leg and he and the male he was searching both went down. The suspect who fired the shots stepped over the three people he had shot and ran out the door onto Main Street, ran north from there and disappeared into the night.

Officer Edward T. Broadfoot lay on the floor bleeding out from his head wound. He was transported to St Joseph Hospital where he died. Officer Broadfoot left a wife and two children. Officer Dowdy survived his wounds. He returned to duty after a three month stay in the hospital. The Male who was hit during the shooting died of peritonitis four days later.

Court reconvened on Saturday morning February 23rd with Officer Broadfoot scheduled to be the first witness. The court room was silent as the clerk called his name three times. After a moment, of waiting in silence, court resumed.

Once more the same witnesses gave testimony in the trial. More witnesses were called and the same information given to a new Jury. On the February 26, 1918 the Judge charged the Jury and they went into deliberations.

After 24 hours of deliberations the Jury informed the Judge they could not agree and stood at 9-3. Judge McCall dismissed them and the second Federal Court suit ended in a hung Jury.

In June of 1917, the criminal appeal of the conviction for involuntary manslaughter of W.A. Dillon and the 12 other defendants was completed and sent to the State Supreme Court.

In closing, the term progressive era was very appropriate for that time in our history, especially in the area of labor. The coming of the industrial age created opportunity for jobs that had not existed in previous years. Until 1890 or earlier, most people made a living working in some capacity as an agrarian. That was more true in the South than most other areas of the country. Many young southerners of that day had little interest in farming and were migrating to the cities seeking better paying jobs and a different lifestyle from farm labor.

Many employers in the South had an old attitude towards employees that resembled a Master/Slave relationship. It meant that the employer set the working conditions such as hours worked and days worked and benefits (Mostly there were none). There was no paid sick leave, no overtime and no vacations as a rule.

Most companies worked employees as many hours as it took to complete a job. There was no overtime and refusing to work almost always resulted in termination. Most jobs of the day were 6 days a week with 10 to 15 hours each day the norm. The Street Railway employees worked until they completed their runs. As many as 15 hours if there were delays. And worked Saturdays.

As the education system improved and people became more enlightened and aware of their situation they were primed for the influence of Unions. In the early teens in the USA Unions were growing in most areas of the country except for the South.

Southern employers and City Governments were against Unions and did not want to give up any control over their employees. That attitude prevailed into the 1960’s.

The Memphis Street Railway unionization was the largest Union in the city at the time. Just the idea of the benefits the Union offered the workers were life changing. Benefits we take for granted were unheard of to people of that time.

The first to understand the benefit of Union representation were the wives. They saw a chance for a change in their lives and a better future. Better pay, job security, less working hours for their spouses and other benefits promised a change in lifestyle unprecedented before.

Many of the wives went to Madison and Third and Madison and Main to show support for their spouses. They were holding babies and shouting support for the car operators as they passed. Encouraging non strikers to stop their car and join the strike.

An incident related in one of the local newspapers told of a wife who waited with other wives at Main and Madison for the car operated by her husband. As it passed and was stopped she began calling to him to join the strike. The man refused and would not answer. He was looking out for their best interest in his own way. He needed his job to support them and he was reluctant to jeopardize his source of income.

The lady continued to plead with him to join the strikers and she finally went on board the car, holding her young child and persuaded him to leave the car with her. Finally he relented and the crowd watching cheered loudly as they left the car and joined the other striking workers. The Conductor also left the car and joined the strike.

I believe this pretty much defines what the Union meant to working class people.

Unions were a necessary evil in those days. It was the beginning of change in a neglected part of our society at the time, Employee Rights. Mostly, people had none at the turn of the last century. The Unions brought their situation to the forefront and made their lives better.

1 thought on “Memphis Street Railway Strike – Part III

  1. What an awesome and fascinating ending to the story. I never knew what a Union was until the garbage strike. Then I went to work for Kimberly-Clark and ended up working with 3 different unions. In 1994 they shut down every union mill in the Country. Thanks so much for the great story. Absolutely fascinating.

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