SPEAKER 1: Following his work for the Bonneville Power Administration, Woody returned to New York City. He began writing a column for the East Coast communist newspaper, The Daily Worker, but still managed to appear on network radio, even having his own show for a time.
But he toured with the Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger, Millard Lampell, and Lee Haze, during the summer of 1941. And, of course, after June, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the Almanac's changed, and Woody changed their anti-war line to a pro-war line, since the Communist Party now wanted the United States to enter the war on the side of England and Russia.
They sang for trade unions. And they were actually having a hootenanny on December 7th, 1941, the day that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, leading the US into the war. Well, Woody's life during the war was complicated. There were certain important developments. I'll mention just a few of them.
He met-- in 1942, he met Marjorie Mazia, a 25-year-old dancer with Sophie Maslow in the Martha Graham Dance Company, when Maslow was choreographing some dancers based on Woody's dust bowl ballads. He and Marjorie fell in love. She became pregnant with their daughter, Kathy Anne, who was born in 1943. She eventually left her husband, Joseph Mazia. And she and Woody would be married in December 1945.
He spent much of 1942 writing his autobiography, which is published the following year, called Bound for Glory. It's really a good book. And it's out in paperback. It's still in print. And it's worth reading. It's a lot of fun.
To avoid the draft, in 1943, Woody signed up with the Merchant Marines, along with his friend, the singer, Cisco Houston. They signed up as mess boys on Liberty ships, carrying war cargo across the Atlantic.
Woody was not your typical sailor. Cisco Houston described him going on board ship the first day, carrying a guitar, a mandolin, a violin, several harmonicas, a Jew's harp, and a typewriter. But if he wasn't your typical member of the Merchant Marine, he nevertheless was in part of a typical convoy.
Typically, there were a hundred ships that would go in five rows, accompanied by destroyers, to help ward off submarine attacks. He made trips to Gibraltar, North Africa, and Normandy. His ship was torpedoed twice, but he wasn't injured. He was a member of the National Maritime Union, the NMU. And it was only at the end of the war-- in fact, on the day that Germany surrendered-- that Woody, who had left the Merchant Marine, was finally drafted into the army. And he would serve in training camp for a couple of months.
He wrote a song, Talking Merchant Marine Blues, about his experience in the Merchant Marine. But I'm going to have to go past that one, as one of the nice talking blues that he wrote, and move to one of the songs that he wrote toward the end of the war, when he was home, after serving in the Merchant Marine, but before he entered the army itself.
In between the Merchant Marine trips, he recorded for Moe Asch at Folkways Records. And he campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt's re-election in 1944. And he wrote some songs about major events in American labor and American radical history. He wrote them based on a book he read by Ella Reeve Bloor, who was known to everyone in the radical movement as Mother Bloor.
Her autobiography was called We are Many. It's really a terrific book. It was based, of course, on Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, The Mask of Anarchy-- "Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number. Ye are many, they are few." So she took the ye are many and made it we are many. Ella Reeve Bloor was born in 1862. One of her earliest memories was of the day that Abraham Lincoln died. And when she was a little older, she actually got to know Walt Whitman.
As a young woman, she became a socialist and then a communist. Woody Guthrie met her in New York City in the '40s. Her granddaughter, Ella Reeve Bloor's granddaughter was married to the actor Will Geer. Will Geer was one of Woody Guthrie's best friends. And so Woody Guthrie read her autobiography at 19, during the war. And one of the chapters was called "Massacre of the Innocents."
In it, she talked about the Ludlow Massacre, in Colorado, in the spring of 1914, during a coal miner's strike, after a skirmish between strikers and the National Guard, in which some strikers were killed. The military set fire to a tent, not realizing that women and children had sort of dug a pit underneath the tent to hide. And when the tent was set on fire, they were also burned to death, suffocated. And the next day, 11 children and two women were discovered incinerated under the burned-out tent.
The other incident that Mother Bloor wrote about happened a little earlier, at Christmas, 1913, in Calumet, Michigan. So let me tell you a little bit about what happened. Because this was the basis for Woody's song, 1913 Massacre. Mother Bloor was in Calumet, though she wasn't actually at the scene of this tragedy. There was a strike by 15,000 miners in the copper fields, that had been going on since the summer of 1913, for the typical demands-- the eight-hour day, union recognition, a modest wage hike to $3 a day, and an end to a new system that had been introduced, a new drilling system that used to take two men to run one of the heavy drills in the copper mines.
The bosses introduced a new system. One man could do it, because the water operated automatically. But the miners were very unhappy, because the drill was very heavy. It weighed upwards of 150 pounds. And if a miner was injured, and this often happened, there wouldn't be another person there to help them out. So they objected to the use of this new equipment, which, of course, the owners wanted to use, because it only took one worker, not two workers, and therefore, they had to pay fewer-- lower wages, or less wages.
There was a report on working conditions in the mines. It was an objective, impartial report, pointing out that some of the miners had to push cars loaded with copper weighing from 5,000 to 8,000 pounds-- the carts weighed that-- over rough tracks for hundreds of feet many times a day. Here's what this report said, quote, "This is exhausting, muscle straining, backbreaking work, really work for beast of burden, or for mechanical motors." There weren't any old copper miners. "Only the young and strong can stand it." I'm quoting from that report-- "Only the young and strong can stand it."
Well, as the strike progressed, the copper towns in Michigan became armed camps. The governor called out the National Guard. Thousands of men, artillery, cavalry, infantry. The Sheriff of Calumet County swore in 1,700 deputy sheriffs. Many of them were employees of the copper companies. Others were the gunmen and thugs that Mother Bloor would talk about. And there was indeed a Christmas party in 1913 for the families of the striking miners at the Italian Benevolent Society Hall. And there was a stampede when someone, no one knows who, shouted fire. 500 children were at this party and many of their parents.
The studies that have been done afterwards showed that to get up to the-- to get up the stairs to where all of these hundreds of people were, you had to go through double doors. The outer doors opened outward, the inner doors opened inward. And at the shout of fire, as the children came rushing down the stairs with some parents, their bodies pressed against that inner door, so it couldn't open up this way. Even if the outer door could open, the inner door couldn't open. And so they were trampled to death.
The crush of bodies prevented the inner doors from opening. And in fact, 73 people died. They weren't all children. The song says they were. But 59 of them were children. Let me read you Mother Bloor's account, or an excerpt from it. And then I'll sing 1913 Massacre. And then we'll hear from Ali about the Friends of Farm Workers. And then we'll take the intermission.
Here's what she wrote. "On Christmas Eve, the children gathered in the hall. First the children sang and then the presents were given out. A little toe-headed Finish girl, of about 13, with long braids down her back sat down at the piano. She had started her piece, when a man pushed the door open and shouted fire. There was no fire. But at the cry, the children started to rush out of the hall in terror. One of the mothers got up and said don't be scared children, there isn't any fire. We tried to keep the entertainment going.
The little girl kept on playing. In about five minutes, the door at the back of the room opened and a man came into the room with a little limp figure in his arms. Another man followed carrying another child, then another, and another, and another. They laid the little bodies in a row on the platform beneath the Christmas tree. The children were dead. Then they went back and got more little dead bodies and brought them in. There were 73 of them. I can hardly tell about it or think about it, even today."
[MUSIC PLAYING - WOODIE GUTHRIE, "1913 MASSACRE"] Take a trip with me in 1913 to Calumet, Michigan in the copper country. Take you to a place called Italian Hall where the miners are having their big Christmas ball. I'll take you to a door and up a high stairs. Singing and dancing is heard everywhere. Let you shake hands with the people you see. Watch the kids dance around the big Christmas tree.
You ask about work and you ask about pay. They'll tell you they make less than $1 a day. Working the copper claims risking their lives. It's fun to spend Christmas with children and wives. There's talking, and laughing, and songs in the air. And the spirit of Christmas is everywhere. Before you know it, you're friends with us all. And you're dancing around and around in the hall.
Well, a little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights to play the piano so you got to keep quiet. To hear all this fun you would not realize that the copper boss' thug men are milling outside. The copper boss' thugs stuck their heads in the door. One of them yelled and he screamed, "there's a fire." A lady she hollered, "there's no such a thing. Keep on with your party, there's no such a thing."
A few people rushed and it was only a few, "It's just the thugs and scabs fooling you. A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down. But the thugs held the door and he could not get out. And then others followed, a hundred or more. Most everybody remained on the floor. The gun thugs they laughed at their murderous joke, while the children were smothered on the stairs by the door.
Such a terrible sight I never did see. We carried our children back up to their tree. The scabs outside still laughed at their spree. And the children that died were seventy-three. The piano played a slow funeral tune. And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon. The parents, they cried and the miners, they moaned, "See what your greed for money has done. See what your greed for money has done."
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Join historian Richard Polenberg in a lecture and concert of the life and songs of Woody Guthrie.
This video is part 9 of 17 in the Woody Guthrie: His Life, Times, and Music series.