Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of July question: what is patriotism?

And who is Angelo Herndon?

One of this country's many unknown working class heroes. If you Google his name, you'll find a number of articles, including a Wikipedia entry, about his arrest for inciting insurrection for having the nerve to encourage Georgia mill workers to unionize back in the 1930s. What none of the articles mention (at least not the ones I skimmed this morning) is that inciting insurrection was a capital crime in Georgia, and the District Attorney pushed hard for the death penalty.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the case is that Herndon was released on bond while his case was being appealed. It was not unusual for labor organizers in the deep South to take advantage of being out on bond to leave the region rather than returning to face the certainty of extremely long prison terms and the very real risk of mob violence and lynching. Herndon, who had been only 19 at the time of his arrest, chose to go back to Atlanta and allow the legal process to proceed. In 1937 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Georgia civil insurrection law, reversing Herdon's conviction and freeing him from prison.

Herndon remained active in the Communist Party and the labor movement through the 1940s, and then quietly disappeared into obscurity in middle age.

You know, I occasionally am subjected to anti-union and anti-communism rants by politically conservative acquaintances. Well, the last time I looked it wasn't a capital offense to complain about working conditions. You might get fired if you suggest forming a union at work, but no one's going to march you off to jail with a legal recommendation for the death penalty. You can thank Angelo Herndon and his compatriots -- they were willing to die so the rest of us could enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of association.
[This post was inspired by C-Span asking the question "what is patriotism?"]


  1. Great post. The freedom we enjoy so casually was dearly bought by many heroes: some in uniform and some not. Thanks for letting me know about this one.

  2. This is a great post. I knew that extreme measures were taken to squelch labor organizers, but I had no idea that "insurrection" was a capitol offense. I'm amazed at the anti-union rhetoric I still hear from people who enjoy 35 hour work weeks, several weeks of vacation, safe work conditions, employer contributions to retirement benefits and medical benefits.

    But you know, the unions who made all those things happen suck.

  3. i loved this idea of patriotism is not telling some one that disagrees with you on national policy that if you don't like it leave..and if your not for the war or bush your a traitor..happy 4th...


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