WHITE LAKE CITY, White Lake, June 19, 1921 -- Socialist and pacifist leader Beatrice Pledger, 29, was shot and killed yesterday while speaking to a riotous crowd downtown at Liberty Wells.
Pledger, who has been an outspoken critic of both the Great War and the Second Civil War, was shot by an unknown assassin, presumably from within the crowd. Police inquiries are continuing. Authorities say that there had been no explicit recent threats on Pledger's life before the rally, but her well-known strong pacifistic views have made her a polarizing figure.
Pledger, who had been a vocal advocate of peace and socialism since before the Great War, was the keynote speaker of the rally and was addressing an audience of almost a thousand people. The occasion of the rally was "Juneteenth", the 25th anniversary of the freeing of all slaves throughout the United States. The rally was timed to coordinate with other rallies in cities across the country, including one in New York addressed by Jane Addams, and one in Indiana addressed by Eugene Debs.
Pledger began her speech with a brave challenge to "policemen, capitalists, slave-landers and free-landers", saying that she would speak her piece and if they wanted to put her in jail afterwards, so be it. She said she had been to jail before and fully expected to return there again. She then spoke at length on the history of the republic, starting by denouncing Lincoln for invading the South, and Lee for defending it, saying that no political union was worth the deaths of six hundred thousand men.
"Some will say I am unpatriotic," she said, "but the true patriot speaks the truth. And today you will hear the truth, ladies and gentlemen. Since the day that Lincoln and Lee shook hands on the White House lawn, our nation has gone from war to war, betrayal to betrayal, blood to blood."
She then listed off a long tale of "atrocities" committed by this republic, beginning with the Indian War under President Lee, passing quickly over the Spanish-American War and the slave and land riots of the 1890's, the troubles in Argentina and the Philippines, and of course the Great War. She then spoke of the current war, and placed the blame for it firmly in the lap of the capitalists.
"Why are we at war?" she demanded. "Are we defending the republic from an external enemy? We are not. Are we defending it from secessionists? Is Georgia, or Louisiana, or Nueces, attempting to break away from the American union? No. The government, ladies and gentlemen, is not under attack. No one is questioning federal authority. No one is questioning state authority. We are at war, my friends, because our brothers and sisters, the black and Indian men and women of the South, have asked for their right to own land, to work for fair wages, to have their children educated and their sick and elderly cared for, in the same way that the rich white land owners and capitalists can. Who among you would deny them this? Isn't this simple humanity? Isn't this common sense? Why, then, are we at war?
"Let me give you another bit of history, my friends. You remember John Thompson, special investigator of the state of White Lake, who was shot down in cold blood in the courtroom up the street here. You remember that dastardly crime, do you not? Who do you think did that?
"It was the United Railways, consisting of a lot of plutocrats and highbinders represented by the Chamber of Commerce, who absolutely control the city of White Lake. This city is their private plantation. They do not hesitate a moment to plot murder or any other crime to perpetuate their corrupt and enslaving regime.They own the railways; they control the great industries; they are the industrial masters and the political rulers of the people. They are the autocrats of the Rocky Mountains -- as cruel and infamous as any that ever ruled in Germany or any other country in the old world.
"When their rule became so corrupt that at last a grand jury indicted them and they were placed on trial, and John Thompson was selected to assist in their prosecution, this gang, represented by the Chamber of Commerce -- this gang of plutocrats, autocrats and highbinders -- hired an assassin to shoot Thompson down in the courtroom. Thompson happened to live through it. But that was not their fault.
"Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an arch-patriot; every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for democracy. What humbug! What rot! These autocrats, these tyrants, these red-handed robbers and murderers, these men call themselves 'patriots,' while the men who have the courage to stand face to face with them, speak the truth, and fight for their exploited victims -- they are called the disloyalists and traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight."[*]
At this point her speech was broken by the assassin's bullet. She is survived by her mother, Sarah Pledger, and her two children.
Many passages from the speech of (fictional) Beatrice Pledger are lifted from an actual speech given by socialist leader Eugene V. Debs in Canton, Ohio, in the closing years of World War I. At that time it was illegal to speak out against the war in the United States, and after this speech he was sentenced to prison for 10 years (though President Harding reluctantly commuted it to 3).