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THE IWW AND FREE SPEECH FIGHTS
City Market

Solidarity
Graphic from Solidarity August 4, 1917

City Market has long been a gathering place for unemployed workers. On July 8, 1885, touring Knights of Labor organizer Albert Parsons spoke here to 1,500 "workingmen, mostly tramps" in an open-air meeting. Parsons, a leader of the 8 hour movement, was framed, convicted and hanged for the Haymarket bombing in 1886 in Chicago.

The Haymarket incident provoked a backlash by government and business against labor organizing. Such hysteria reappeared in Kansas City where by 1911 the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, established Local 61 at 211 East Missouri Avenue. The I.W.W. motto was "Organize the Unorganized". In June A.B. Carson, a Wobbly, was arrested for disturbing the peace during a speech at the corner of Missouri Ave. and Main Street, near City Market. Other arrests followed, and in October famed agitator and Wobbly leader Frank Little was arrested along with six others. This ignited the Kansas City Free Speech Fight

In this and a similar fight in 1914, the I.W.W. sent in scores of men to speak on street corners. When arrests inevitably followed, Wobblies filled the jails, creating a financial burden on city resources. From 1907 to 1916 Wobblies conducted about 30 such struggles, mostly in the West. They defended the right to agitate and organize on city streets. Their soapbox propaganda inflamed local businessmen and civic leaders who passed ordinances or simply persuaded police to ban them from street-corner speaking.

IWW Local Office
The I.W.W. local office was at 211 E. Missouri Ave

Those arrested in Kansas City were denied jury trials and sent to jail. Local 61 put out a call to members to come to Kansas City to be arrested. Hundreds arrived. After three weeks of arrests, the city agreed to talk and an agreement was reached in which all were paroled and the city recognized their right to speak on streets. The Free Speech Fights played a significant role in the defense of American constitutional rights.


 
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