4. A series of armed conflicts lasting for four decades, the Coal Wars was an attempt by coal operators to oppose worker’s rights in their facilities with extreme force including murdering their employees
Occurring chiefly in the Eastern United States, specifically in Appalachia, the Coal Wars were a succession of violent conflicts between 1890 and 1930. Inspired by the perceived economic exploitation of workers by coal operators, who, from the 1870s onward, would routinely hire private detectives to ensure union organizations did not penetrate their sites and encourage worker’s rights, these coal miners at various locations sought to advance protections. Responding with extreme violence, coal operators sought to combat disruptive employees by any means necessary including excessive uses of force against their striking workers.
Of particular note, the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912 saw some of the worst examples of corporate violence inflicted upon American workers. Lasting from April 1912 through July 1913, the demands by employees were not dramatic, amounting to just fifteen cents per worker per day. Unrelenting, the coal companies instead employed professional strikebreakers to end the resistance and fired anyone joining a union. On February 9, 1913, these hired thugs even drove a heavily armored train fitted with a machine gun through the tents of the miners and their families, killing at least fifty and injuring scores more. Ultimately unsuccessful, the legacy of the conflict can be seen even today, with the United States enjoying among the worst employee rights of any developed nation.
3. Fought to prevent the corrupt Crump political machine from continuing to rig elections, the Battle of Athens was won by returning World War Two veterans crusading to retrieve stolen ballot boxes in 1946
One of the many political machines operating throughout the American democratic system during the early 20th century, the E.H. Crump consortium controlled Tennessee politics from the 1920s until the mid-1950s. Personally appointing every Mayor of Memphis between 1915 and 1954, Crump committed countless acts of electoral fraud, corruption, and bribery to maintain an iron grip over almost every aspect of the state. Challenged by the return of approximately 3,000 servicemen after the end of the Second World War, almost ten percent of McMinn County’s population, these veterans argued that “if democracy was good enough to put on the Germans and the Japs, it was good enough for McMinn County, too”.
Forming the GI Non-Partisan League, presenting a slate of candidates and raising money for election oversight, the embattled Crump fought back. Unleashing hundreds of armed law enforcement officers against his opponents during the 1846 elections, seizing ballot boxes and holding them in the county jail whilst attempting to doctor the results, the veterans responded by arming themselves. Assaulting the jail with as many as two thousand men, the former soldiers overran the building and prevented the election from being stolen. Signaling the beginning of the end for the corrupt political consortium, the Battle of Athens marked the entry of American veterans into mainstream U.S. politics.
2. An attempt by nationalists in Puerto Rica to win independence from colonial rule under the United States, the San Juan Revolt of 1950 was an unsuccessful effort to replicate the Thirteen Colonies’ victory against Great Britain
Following the Ponce Massacre in 1937, when, during a peaceful protest march against American governance in Puerto Rico, troops under U.S. command opened fire killing eighteen and wounding two hundred and thirty-five, members of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party grew increasingly radical in their opposition to American rule over the island. Hoping the United Nations would take notice and intervene, in 1950 the Nationalists organized mass uprisings against the United States. Thwarted by American police, who had learned of their plans and arrested a number of key figures, its leader Albizu Campos was forced to order the revolution to start prematurely on October 27.
With the police opening fire once again upon a caravan of Nationalists without provocation, popular outcry led to a series of attacks throughout Puerto Rica against American targets, in particular La Fortaleza (the Governor’s mansion) and the Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan. Largely failing in their efforts, suffering heavy casualties against superior numbers and failing to seize any important buildings, the final salvo of the 1950 rebellion occurred on November 1, when nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo unsuccessfully attacked Blair House in Washington D.C. with the hope of assassinating President Truman.
1. A revolt launched by inmates of Attica Correctional Facility in 1971, the retaking of the prison saw the deadliest one-day encounter between Americans since the end of the Civil War
Part of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement, the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 saw inmates at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, participate in a mass rebellion in protest of brutal conditions and in pursuit of political rights. Involving 1,281 out of the prison’s approximately 2,200 inmates, on September 9, 1971, the prisoner’s took forty-two officers and civilian members of staff hostage. Issuing a list of demands, including adequate medical treatment and fair visitation rights, negotiations were led by twenty-old-year-old Elliott James “L.D.” Barkley. Despite agreeing to twenty-eight reasonable requests, authorities refused to grant amnesty to those involved and talks broke down.
Ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to regain control of the prison by force, at 0946 on September 13 police opened fire. Indiscriminately hitting hostages and inmates, including those not resisting, ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates were killed during the attack, becoming the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War. Barkley, just days away from his scheduled release, attempted to surrender but was murdered by state police upon recapture. A subsequent report, released to the public in 2013, revealed a long history of inmate abuse, including the torturing of those incarcerated at Attica.
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