Pickets returned to the Minneapolis Warehouse District on Saturday, nearly 81 years to the day after a strike there turned violent when police shot 67 truckers, killing two and sparking the city's labor movement.
Their cause this time: To remember the events of July 20, 1934, by dedicating a plaque on the side of the Sherwin Williams building on 3rd Street N., where striker Henry Ness was killed by officers.
"How many slugs did they say he had put in him?" Gail Martinsen asked her sister, Nadine Ness, as they stood on the corner where their grandfather was shot.
"They said that there were 38 bullets in his back," Ness said, noting many strikers were shot in the back and some were shot before they got out of their trucks.
John Belor, a member of an organization of unemployed workers, also died 10 days after being shot on July 20.
On Saturday, families of 13 strikers waved picket signs bearing photographs of their loved ones. A group called Remember 1934, which commemorated the strike's 80th anniversary last year, raised the money to cover the cost of the plaque and ceremony.
The July 20 violence came during the third in a series of three strikes in 1934 that centered on efforts to unionize truckers in Minneapolis under the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. One month earlier, a confrontation referred to as Deputies Run ended in a battle that killed deputized business owner Arthur Lyman and special policeman Peter Erath.
David Riehle, a Remember 1934 member, said anyone studying American history would say the events of 1934 in Minneapolis and other cities were pivotal moments in the nation's labor movement.
"These strikes were explosive," he said. "The powers that be were shaken by what happened. They said at the time that they were afraid of not just one strike in one city, but of facing an organized working class that may be carrying out a revolution."
Finding their stories
Gladys McKenzie, Riehle's wife and a fellow committee member, has worked to find descendants of the strikers.
"We really need to find these people and we really need to get their stories," McKenzie said. "There's a window of opportunity for doing that that's going to close on us."
At a booth Saturday, she helped families slap together their picket signs and greeted people like John Hanson. His father was among those who were picketing on July 20, which also has been called Bloody Friday. Hanson later took the stage to tell the audience how his father, also named John Hanson, witnessed a friend being shot by police.
"The bastards — they shot him in the back," he said his father told him. He said his father also recalled how the strikers were made up of World War I veterans, immigrants and the unemployed, all with varying political views.
Committee members say the plaque is the first tangible memorial to acknowledge a labor movement in Minneapolis. After the ceremony, some families lingered to share stories in front of the memorial.
"We have weekends off, we have breaks, we have lunch, we have fair wages — within reason," Nadine Ness said. "[Many] don't understand what got them there. They are standing on the shoulders of heroes and they don't know it. And I think this plaque helps in that direction, to show these were amazing people, and look at what they did."