Today I was reminded of something that, despite living in Louisiana my entire life, I never learned about until I was almost 25 years old. This is the story of Bogalusa, Louisiana, and the struggle for equal rights and living wages for its workers, and how capitalism’s oppressive nature led to the death of those trying to defend that struggle.
Bogalusa is a somewhat sleepy town, located just west of the Louisiana/Mississippi border. Their claim to fame is, at one point in the past, the largest lumber mill in the world. Their primary industry today revolves around their paper mill. If you were to ask residents of the town where I was born, on a clear crisp winter day when the wind was just right, they’d tell you they could smell that paper mill.
But that sleepiness hides a very dark anti-union history just as revolting as that paper mill smell. You see, that world’s largest lumber mill back in the 1900’s was the site of one of the worst acts of violence against black union workers and white anti-unionists and their "preservationist" (read: racist) backers.
You see, the lumber mill’s owners were….not happy about having to pay living wages. They were especially not happy about having to pay black workers’ living wages. This led to one member of the Louisiana AFL (American Federation of Labor) describing black residents being rounded up and jailed for vagrancy, then being forced at gunpoint to work at the mill.
LAAFL President Frank Morrison: “They have been continually arresting Negroes for vagrancy and placing them in the city jail...In the morning the employment manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company goes to the jail and takes them before the city court where they are fined as vagrants and turned over to the lumber company under the guard of the gunmen where they are made to work out this fine.”
The AFL continued to fight to organize its black and white workers together, and get the lumber mill to pay them both living wages. The Great Southern Lumber Company, meanwhile, continued to sow discord among the white workers to turn them on the black workers. This included everything from fears of race mixing to claiming that Moscow was supporting the AFL’s efforts to unionize.
This all came to a head on the night of November 21, 1919. A posse of Great Southern Lumber Company gunmen and members of the Self-Preservation Loyalty League (a KKK-adjacent group) showed up to the home of Sol Dacus, then head of the black section of the International Union of Timber Workers in Bogalusa. They opened fire on Sol's house, but luckily Sol, his wife, and his children escaped harm.
The next morning, Sol walked down Columbia street, the main thoroughfare in Bogalusa, but he was not alone. Flanked on either side of him were two white unionists, J. P. Bouchillon and Stanley O’Rourke, each toting a shotgun. The Great Southern blew their mill’s whistle, a signal of a “riot”, in order to again mobilize the posse. The Great Southern’s General Manager just so happened to be the mayor of Bogalusa, and the posse subsequently also obtained arrest warrants for Bouchillon and O’Rourke.
What happened next is disputed by separate accounts by both the company, and LAAFL’s President Frank Morrison. The company maintains that 7 men in the union offices, which were located in an auto repair shop, opened fire on the 150 “deputies”, who then returned fire. Morrison’s account, relayed in 1920 in a letter to the NAACP, follows:
cw: description of a shooting, death
“They drove up in their automobiles and without warning began to shoot. [Central Trades and Labor Council President Len] Williams was the first to appear at the door where he was shot dead, without a word being spoken by either side. Two other men, who were in his office at the time, were shot down, and the bodies of the three men fell one on top of the other in the doorway."
cw: description of a shooting, death
The other men attempted to leave the building by the back door where two of them were shot down while coming out with their hands above their heads; the only shot fired by any man connected with the labor people in any way was fired by a young brother of Lem Williams who shot Captain LeBlanc in the shoulder with a .22-caliber rifle, after he had shot his brother to death. This Captain LeBlanc was a returned soldier and was placed in command of the gunmen.”
cw: description of a shooting, death
At the end of it all, Lem Williams, J.P. Bouchillon, and another union carpenter, Thomas Gaines, lay dead. Stanley O’Rourke was severely wounded and taken to the company hospital, where he ultimately died. Sol Dacus was able to once again escape and rejoin his family in New Orleans.
I've tried to find out what happened to Sol Dacus after he successfully fled Bogalusa to New Orleans, but sadly there's not much more about him after he fled. The only snippet I've been able to find is that he filed a suit against the Great Southern in federal court for $102,360 in damages from the original attempted murder on the night of November 21. The court, unsurprisingly, found in favor of the Great Southern.
They reasoned that the posse was there to serve an arrest warrant, not to murder Sol. Sol died without recovering any damages, as the posse "Took our spoons [and] all our children's clothes", leaving them "without a thing in the world". His attorney asked "You can't go back to Bogalusa?", he answered "Oh no sir; they would burn me", pointing at several members of the Great Southern's mob.
I think about this a lot; how I never learned this in school, despite being just several miles from the site of the massacre. How the struggle for equality and against capitalism’s oppression through wage slavery is the struggle of all working people. If we’re not willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with our comrades, if we are not willing to die for what we believe in, then we are willingly giving ourselves over to the side of oppression.
In the event you've read this and appreciated the story, and are interested in the whole account, here's a link to the article "Bogalusa Burning: The War Against Biracial Unionism in the Deep South, published in the The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 63, No. 31919 in 1997.
An additional author's note here: I am always hesitant to do threads like this because who wants to read a wall of text, and I'm just god awful at articulating my own personal feelings and beliefs that I often just decide to not do so. So I seriously appreciate everyone that took the time to read this. Thank you!
@anthonydavis That was a great thread, thank you for sharing that (awful) story.
I am also really enjoying your thread on New Orleans roots rock & R&B!
Heard in the news about Hurricane Barry coming in, hope everybody in Louisiana will be OK 😟
@nindokag hey thanks for reading both and I'm glad you enjoyed em! I've moved away recently but I still have a lot of friends and family down there who are (thankfully) good so far. They're all sandbagged up and prepped with hurricane supplies thankfully!
Keeping my fingers crossed for everyone down there too ♥️
@wintgenstein aww thank you! Yeah everything is great, just been busy with work stuff and occasionally popping in to fave and boost when I can 😁😁
@anthonydavis the fact that the mill manager and the mayor were the same guy is truly terrifying. Thanks for sharing.
@Ethancdavenport yeah it was so blatantly a company town, it boggles my mind. Thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed!
Unstoppable shitposting engine.