Reclaim Our History Nov. 16-30
Special Labor Hero Edition: Lum Williams
Item: November 22, 1919: Lum Williams and two other union members are shot dead for cross-racial labor organizing, Bogalusa, Louisiana.
Story:In 1917 workers at the Great Southern Lumber Company mill in Bogalusa called for help in forming a union, to protect themselves from unsafe working conditions and low pay. The company informed the Louisiana Federation of Labor that they would not tolerate any unions coming to Bogalusa. However, despite threats, 17 unions were organized.
Southern began firing union men and hiring non-union blacks to replace them, telling farmers and planters that the unions were trying to organize black farm laborers. The union responded by creating unions for the replacement black workers (since allowing Negroes into white unions was unthinkable).
A public meeting was held and an agreement made that the company would stop firing union men if the union would stop organizing black workers. However, in April 1919 Southern Lumber began firing both white and black union workers, and refused to meet with union leaders.
Conveniently, the vice-president of Southern Lumber was mayor of Bogalusa, and he deputized 13 non-union workers. These men and the sheriff’s deputies began terrorizing union members, with beatings, intimidation, and threats, and offering bribes to leave town. They began arresting union members, driving them 12 miles out of town to the county seat, Franklinton, and then dropping the charges, leaving the men stranded. They also took the president of the sawyer’s union out of town, beat him nearly unconscious, and put him on a train with three gunmen, who dumped him in New Orleans.
A house belonging to the president of the Colored Timber Workers’ Union, Sol Dacus, was literally shot to pieces the night after he refused a bribe to leave town. He had known he would be attacked and had taken refuge with Lum Williams, head of the Central Trades Council. The company made an untrue statement to the press that Williams and another labor sympathizer, heavily armed, had taken Dacus up and down a main street and dared the authorities to arrest him.
The next day the sheriff and his goons surrounded Williams’ house and began firing without warning. Williams opened the door and was immediately shot dead. Two other men died trying to surrender. The only shot fired from the house was from the gun of Williams’ younger brother, who shot Captain LeBlanc in the shoulder with his .22 rifle, after watching his unarmed brother be mercilessly gunned down. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
The company continued its assaults on the union, threatening union organizers and arresting for “vagrancy” any black men unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of a law enforcement agent, whether a union member or not. In order to prevent further mayhem, the governor asked for and received federal troops to keep order.
The Great Southern Lumber Company continued to harass union members until it closed the Bogalusa mill in 1938.