1934 August 11

Prominent Lawyers Protest Vigilante Raids Against Alleged Radicals in San Francisco


A group of prominent lawyers organized by the ACLU released a statement on this day protesting raids against alleged radicals by private vigilante groups in San Francisco. The letter claimed that it was well known that the raids were planned, but “the police provided no protection.” Additionally, “the National Guard, called out to preserve the peace, provided no protection.” About 300 men were arrested in the raids. The raids were part of the aftermath of the bitter longshoreman’s strike in San Francisco between May and July, 1934. The mayor of San Francisco, on the basis of no evidence about specific individuals, labelled all the men “Communists.”

The prominent lawyers included First Amendment scholar Zechariah Chafee, Herbert Wechsler of Columbia University Law School, civil rights lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston of Howard University (April 22, 1950), and three lawyers associated with the ACLU: Walter Pollak, Morris Ernst, Arthur Garfield Hays, and A. L. Wirin. Walter Pollak for the ACLU argued the pivotal Supreme Court case of Gitlow v. New York (June 8, 1925). Morris Ernst argued and won the case that ended the censorship of the famous novel Ulysses by James Joyce (December 6, 1933 and August 7, 1934).

Learn more: David Selvin, A Terrible Anger: The 1934 Waterfront and General Strikes in San Francisco (1996)

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