Minneapolis volunteer killed by strikers in 1934 honored

C. Arthur Lyman, beaten to death by striking truckers, was added to the wall of fallen officers in Washington.

Minnesota's latest addition to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wasn't a law enforcement officer at all, but a Minneapolis executive who ran a factory and taught Sunday school.

C. Arthur Lyman also was a leader in the Citizens Alliance, a group of employers that squashed unions in Minneapolis for 30 years. When police called for help in controlling a truckers' strike in May 1934, he signed on as a special deputy.

He wound up getting clubbed by strikers in the Warehouse District, and died of a fractured skull. He was 44.

Now Lyman's name is etched in marble in Washington, D.C., along with those of 19,000 other fallen officers -- a source of consolation to family members who still miss him and consternation for labor activists who think he never should have entered the fight to begin with.

"What did him in probably was his faith in his own abilities and in his God that gave him the courage to not run," said Richard Lyman, 78, of Wayzata, who was an infant when his father was killed. "There are people like that and he was one of them."

But Dave Riehle, former chairman of a railroad union local and an amateur labor historian, said city leaders and employers heedlessly provoked the strikers.

"They chose to go into hand-to-hand combat with their employees," he said. "The people they were attacking fought back."

Another officer who died of beatings in the melee, Special Patrolman Peter Erath of the Minneapolis Police Department, was listed on the law enforcement memorial when it opened in 1991. Lyman didn't gain recognition until a researcher with the National Sheriffs' Association brought his name forward.

"They may have mistakenly believed he didn't fit the criteria, but he died in the line of duty, so he deserves the honor," said Lisa Kiava, spokeswoman for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

That depends on how you define the line of duty, labor historian and University of Minnesota professor emeritus Hy Berman said.

"It wasn't his duty and he wasn't in line for this," Berman said. "He volunteered for ideological reasons. ... He thought he was doing what was right, and he paid the price."

A time of 'high angst'

The truckers' strike is remembered as the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, one of the seminal moments in the U.S. labor movement. It helped lead to the federal law that established and protected collective bargaining rights for workers, and put the Teamsters union on the map.

The strike ran up against the Citizens Alliance, an anti-union organization on whose board Lyman served. He was a World War I veteran and Army reservist who ran a BB manufacturing company in the Longfellow neighborhood and taught religion at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.

His son said that Lyman was getting ready to go to a national meeting of Sunday school superintendents in Indianapolis when he decided instead to help police with the strike. He was deputized along with more than 500 businessmen, salesmen and clerks.

"I don't wish to second-guess him," Richard Lyman said of his father's decision to volunteer. "All of us go through periods of time in our lives when you make a decision and say, 'this is the line and I'm not stepping back.'"

On May 22, 1934, strikers confronted officers near where Target Field now stands. According to "A Union Against Unions," William Milliken's 2001 history of labor strife in Minneapolis, Lyman directed special deputies to defend the corner of 3rd Avenue N. and 6th Street against a mob of strikers. But they were forced to retreat under a barrage of bricks, bottles and pipes.

Lyman, trying to help his men escape, hung back and found himself surrounded by men swinging clubs. He was thrown onto a car, beaten unconscious and then dropped to the street. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

A University of Minnesota faculty wife who watched the crowd encircle Lyman said he was wearing cleated mountaineering boots and slipped on the cobblestones. The deputies, she said, "seemed to have no realization of what they were up against."

After a truce, the strike resumed two months later and two strikers, Henry Ness and John Belor, were shot and killed by police. No one was ever convicted in any of the four deaths that occurred during the strike, which ended when employers agreed to seniority rules and collective bargaining rights.

Other Minnesotans honored

In Washington on Sunday, the start of National Police Week, a candlelight vigil was held to dedicate new names on the memorial, including two from Minnesota besides Lyman: St. Louis Park police officer Michael Pollitz, who died on Nov. 30 while doing a welfare check, and Lake City police officer Shawn Schneider, who died on Dec. 30 after being shot during a domestic call.

Two members of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office honor guard attended in tribute to Lyman.

Richard Lyman said that he and other family members plan to attend Hennepin County's annual law enforcement ceremony at noon Friday at the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. A retired commission salesman, Richard Lyman and his brother Harold once held union cards. His favorite author is John Steinbeck, who wrote movingly of workers and unions and strikes.

"It was a very ugly time and I can sympathize with people who didn't have much in those days and were looking to improve themselves," he said.

"I don't have any particular animosity. In those times of high angst, people's emotions got the best of them."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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