Martha H. Foley

Red May Day in Prison

Published: The Revolutionary Age Saturday May 17, 1919;
Transcription/HTML Markup:For March, 2002.

(Note: Martha Foley was arrested, convicted on perjured testimony, and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.)

RED--on my hands, red on cloths, red on my comrades and in their hearts.

Blood--drawn from helpless men, women and yes, children, by the relentless clubs and cruel bullets of the thugs and police of Boston....

Sitting in a close, dusty cell with seven cowering women I live the day over and over again. In the next cell a woman, who has seen her husband beaten unconscious, is moaning in the agony of premature child-birth. We plead for a doctor. Police officers--can they be men born of women?--jeer: "If you don't like it you can go back to Russia." Outside a howling mob, made up of the very workers for whom we have and are giving our all, thirsts for our blood.

I go back twenty-four hours. It is May Day. The sun is shining in a clean blue sky, leaves and grass of young, vivid green stir in the warm breeze, the call of spring is in the air and one thrills to its challenge. A new world is in birth.

A joyous, living crowd fills to overflowing the Dudley Street Opera House. They are there to celebrate that most significant of all holidays--International Labor Day; and this year its significance has been increased a thousandfold. In Russia the workers have won; they are winning in Germany, in Hungary, in Austria: gaining all over Europe and awakening in America. Everyone in the hall wears a bit of red, a token of the red blood that courses through the veins of all men alike, of all races. Even the children, laughing and playing seem to have captured some of the spirit that animates us. There are speeches received with enthusiastic applause and singing. Tears come to my eyes as I listen to the many languages blending into the "International," and I hear the cry coming down through the ages of peoples pitted against people, slaying one another that the masters might fatten on their blood.

At the end of the meeting the chairman announces that the parade that had been planned cannot be held since a permit was denied. However, we are all invited to go to the Bazaar which marks the opening of the new Socialist home in Roxbury, at "New International Hall." Slowly we leave, and slowly in the street the various groups coalesce into a body of marchers bound for New International Hall, half a mile distant. Some of those in the vanguard are carrying red flags. We are all happy, we are all wishing that everyone else should be happy, but--trouble is brewing.

On the opposite side of the street a rapidly increasing gang of hoodlums is following us threateningly. A policeman steps into the street, speaks to one comrade at the front, and then retires. Soon patrol wagons dash past, turn and block the street. From it descend police with clubs drawn. Without ado they strike right and left among the body of marchers. Men fall to the ground, stunned by the blows. The crowd of non-Socialists surge over toward us and strives to outdo the police in brutality. They are armed with large pieces of timber, with lead-pipe and heavy wire. Men prostrate on the street are kicked and beaten mercilessly. Women are attacked and children trampled upon.

A man carrying a club approaches an officer near me and complains that his crowd is not large enough to kill off there "damn Bolsheviks." The officer advises him to get together all his crowd, as they are to scattered. Amazed, I remonstrate with the officer for encouraging the mob to violence. "Oh, go to hell!" is the answer. I report him to the sergeant in charge, who asks me if I am with those foreigners. To his "You ought to be proud of your associates," I retort: "I am, thank God, I am!"

The police threaten to use their guns. One man tears open his coat bares his breast crying "Kill! Kill!" The sergeant takes deliberate aim at his heart. Confusion reigns supreme. We fly for refuge to door-ways whence we are dragged forth to be set upon once more by the mob. Stones are hurled, more shots fired, and more men beaten. The mob has grown amazingly. Several more patrol wagons have arrived and men and women are thrown headlong into them. Two officers drag me to a patrol and a dozen men, all bruised and bleeding, are crammed into it. They are too dazed to offer any resistance; and yet, while the wagon is jolting on its way to the station, they are cooly beaten over the head with the billies of the police. Will the sweetest music ever silence that sound of those clubs cracking against the skulls which still rings in my ears?

In the station we are pushed and shoved about. Already a large crowd has gathered outside and they rush up the stairs and almost through the entrance. After being listed we are closely herded into small cells and spend the night in cramped position. We listen to the obscene language of the mob outside and of the guardians of the law inside. The pregnant woman screams and the woman next me cries silently--her babies are being left uncared for all night.

Sleep refuses to come. It is a nightmare! It is not--it cannot he real. A revulsion towards all mankind seizes me. If some can be so cruel--then all can. Of what use is it to try to change conditions? But--no. it is unreal. And yet on the other ride of the bars a policeman is saying "We'll show you that this isn't Russia, that you can't try such things in America."

The officer goes away. There is silence inside for a moment and then from the men's section comes, in Italian, me music of the "International." And we sing, sing with triumph and fervor--we are not yet conquered. After the "International" we ring the "Red Flag" and the Russian Hymn. Our songs give us fresh courage and new life.

In the morning we are thrust into closed vans and taken to cells in the courthouse there to await the administration of "justice." The pregnant woman, still without medical attendance, is taken with us. The courthouse like the station is surrounded by seething throngs including many children. Teaching the Hymn of Hate to German school children was no worse than the encouragement given the children of Roxbury in their attacks upon us. A Jewish woman whispers to me that she feels that she is losing something very precious, her love of children. And I understand too well. We sit on iron gratings in the cells in the courthouse basement and wait and wait.

Then a Russian saying: "I came to America away from the Czar because they told me it was the land of liberty. Now I am arrested for having been beaten up and what is my family going to do?" ...

Down the corridor a young boy is sobbing. In answer to my question he tells me that he wan arrested for stealing. He was physically unable to work, having just undergone an operation, and temptation proved too strong for him. He seems to be a manly little chap and his heart almost bursts with each sob. Only a boy who should be in school with his books or in the sunshine playing ball and instead he is here. But such things cannot go on forever, some day an eruption must come and then let the masters beware. As they sow, shall they reap.

At last I secure from the next cell a newspaper--never was I so anxious for one and I am asked to read. I read slowly and clearly to the other comrades. With what a thrill we learn of the demonstrations; in Cleveland, in Detroit, in Chicago, in New York and in Paris. Each account is received with cheers. We are not alone! There are others, many, many others and we triumph!

Again we sing the Red Flag and the International.

Outside the crowd shouts and presses against the barred windows. They think they are free and us imprisoned. But we know better and to their cries of "Down with the Bolsheviki! Kill the dirty Bolsheviks!" our song answers "Arise ye prisoners of starvation, Arise ye wretched of the earth."