1922 December 1

Union Meeting in Vintondale, PA, Denied at Gunpoint

 

People seeking to speak at a pro-coal miner’s union meeting in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, were denied the ability to hold a meeting at gunpoint and in violation of an injunction in their favor, according to a report released by the ACLU on this day. The struggle to affirm the right of coal miners had been going on for weeks. The ACLU had obtained a court injunction prohibiting interference with union organizing meetings in Vintondale after speakers had been denied the right to have a meeting. No matter. When union and ACLU speakers arrived on November 20th to hold a meeting they were again told they could not hold one. Coal company officials and armed gunmen stood nearby. The three would-be speakers were then “accompanied out of town by some of the gunmen,” according to the ACLU report.

The events in Vintondale were typical of the situation in the coal mining communities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in the 1920s. Local officials, with the support of often-armed company officials, systematically denied union organizers and their supporters the right to hold meetings.

The unusual aspect of the incident reported here was that a local court had actually issued an injunction protecting freedom of speech and assembly. In the 1920s, courts almost universally denied First Amendment rights.

Labor finally won the First Amendment right to organize unions, first with the Norris-LaGuardia Act on March 23, 1932, and then with the historic Wagner Act on July 5, 1937.

Learn more about civil liberties in the 1920s: Paul L. Murphy, The Meaning of Freedom of Speech: First Amendment Freedoms from Wilson to FDR (1972)

Read About the ACLU in the 1920s: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

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