1923 May 15

Upton Sinclair Arrested in LA for Reading the Bill of Rights


The famous novelist Upton Sinclair was arrested on Liberty Hill in San Pedro, California (now part of Los Angeles) at a rally in support of striking marine transport workers, who were associated with the radical I.W.W. The strike had idled about 90 ships in Los Angeles harbor. Sinclair had just begun to read the Bill of Rights when he was arrested, and a police officer exclaimed, “We’ll have none of that Constitution stuff.” Sinclair and others were arrested and held incommunicado for four days.

The arrests led to the founding of the Los Angeles affiliate of the ACLU. The site of the arrest is commemorated by a state historical landmark. Sinclair is most famous for his 1906 novel, The Jungle, which exposed the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the Chicago meatpacking industry.

The incident was one of several in the years 1920–23 when ACLU leaders and labor union activists across the country were arrested for attempting to read the Constitution or Bill of Rights. See, for example, March 23, 1920, October 12, 1920, and March 17, 1923.

Visit California State Historical Landmark #1021:

Visit the ACLU of Southern California Web Site: http://www.aclu-sc.org/

Read about the history of the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

And about the ACLU’s First Amendment battles in the 1920s and 1930s: Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech (2016)

Learn more about Upton Sinclair: Anthony Arthur, Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair (2006)

Watch a documentary on Upton Sinclair and his famous novel The Junglehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1aZbqjBF7A

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