On this day in labor history, the year was 1919. That was the day four leaders of the Carpenters union were shot dead in Bogalusa, Louisiana.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the International Union of Timber Workers had embarked on an organizing drive of white and black workers at Great Southern Lumber Company. Bogalusa functioned as a company town. Lumber bosses controlled company housing, local politicians and ruled the town with an iron fist.
By 1919, the two unions began organizing among loggers and sawmill workers in the region. The UBC initially organized among white skilled workers, while the IUTW organized among unskilled, mostly black workers. They soon stepped up efforts to organize jointly.
Historian Stephen Norwood notes that when Great Southern threatened to forcibly break up a union meeting among black workers, armed white union men arrived to defend the meeting. By September, 95% of the workforce was organized when the company instituted a lockout.
On November 21, a posse of local businessmen fired on the home of leading black organizer, Sol Dacus, who narrowly escaped. The following day, armed white union carpenter leaders, Stanley O’Rourke and J.P. Bouchillon escorted Dacus to the Central Trades and Labor Council offices. 150 special policemen were immediately dispatched. They began firing upon union headquarters, killing O’Rourke, Bouchillon and two other union leaders, Thomas Gaines and Lem Williams. Dacus was nearly lynched and escaped with his life to New Orleans.
Norwood concludes the gun battle “represents probably the most dramatic display of interracial labor solidarity in the Deep South during the first half of the twentieth century.” For historian William P. Jones, the anti-union violence and racial terror would culminate in 1923 with a massacre of the Florida lumber town of Rosewood.