Place of Protest: Chicago's Legacy of Dissent, Declaration, and Disruption

Haymarket Square, 1886

Opposing Police Violence

A makeshift bomb transforms an open-air market into a potent symbol of industrial conflict.

WAVES OF IMMIGRANTS FROM GERMANY AND EASTERN EUROPE ARRIVED IN CHICAGO'S NEAR WEST SIDE in the 1880s to satiate industrial demand for labor. Wholesale businesses lined the north side of the neighborhood, including grocers in Haymarket Square at the intersection of Randolph and DesPlaines streets. Along with Market Square and Market Street to the east, Haymarket was a common meeting place where Chicagoans hawked produce, ideas, and news to the city's workers. In the first days of May 1886, laborers went on strike and marched in the streets demanding an eight-hour workday. When police killed at least two strikers at McCormick reaper works on May 3rd, outraged anarchists picked Haymarket as a logical and spacious location to protest police brutality and defend workers' rights.

A MODEST CROWD OF WORKERS AND ACTIVISTS GATHERED IN HAYMARKET SQUARE on the evening of May 4th, joined by plainclothes detectives and observers like Mayor Carter Harrison. As speeches progressed and the weather deteriorated, the crowd shrunk to around 500 people. Harrison even left and informed Inspector Bonfield and his contingent of armed policemen at the nearby DesPlaines Street Station that the peaceful gathering did not require a police presence. Yet when word of inflammatory language by one of the final speakers reached Bonfield, he deployed 176 patrolmen to Haymarket. Shortly after the officers arrived, a makeshift bomb was hurled into the crowd and pandemonium ensued.

SEVEN POLICE OFFICERS AND AN UNKNOWN NUMBER OF CIVILIANS DIED. Fear of anarchists, labor activists, and free speech gripped the city, and the ensuing trial convicted eight people without evidence connecting them to the bomb. Haymarket continued to haunt the city for decades, putting police and city officials more on edge around protesters and vice versa. Efforts to grapple with the collective memory of the event persisted into the twenty-first century, as competing groups erected, destroyed, and gathered around monuments commemorating the fraught moment in the city's history.

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