An African-American Socialist Lends His Support to Railroad Strikers
A nationwide rebellion brought the United States to a standstill in the summer of 1877. Eighty thousand railroad workers walked off the job, joined by hundreds of thousands of Americans outraged by the excesses of the railroad companies and the misery of a four-year economic depression. Peter H. Clark, an African-American school principal and member of the Workingmen's (Socialist) Party, gave the keynote address at a mass meeting in support of the railroad strikers that was held on July 22, 1877 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
But when [workers] see high railroad officials receiving the salary of princes, when they hear of dividends in stock and railroad bonds, they cannot understand why there is no money for the man whose labor earns these vast sums....When they complain, they are told that they are at liberty to quit and take their services elsewhere. This is equivalent to telling them that they are at liberty to go and starve....Hence they make the effort to obtain an increase in wages and to retain their places at the same time. Understanding their motive, and the dire necessity by which they are driven, I pity, but I cannot condemn them....
Then too, the door of justice seems shut in their faces. They have no representation on the Board of Directors. Every state has laws punishing conspiracy, punishing riot and unlawful assemblages, but no state has laws providing for the examination and redress of the grievances of which these men complain. The whole force of the State and National Governments may be invoked by the railroad managers, but the laborer has nothing.