By Richard Schneirov, Indiana State University

"The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today." -- August Spies last words before his hanging, November 11, 1887.

Spies' prophetic words are truer today than ever before. Since the 1930s, the Haymarket events, once known pejoratively as the "Haymarket Riot," have been viewed more benignly by historians, first as an "affair" and more recently as a "tragedy." Historians now routinely refer to the trial of the anarchists arrested for the Haymarket deaths as one of the greatest travesties of justice in the nation's history and as the nation's first "red scare." Three of the best recent studies of Haymarket -- an online document collection sponsored by the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University and books by Paul Avrich and James Green—retell the story of Haymarket from a vantage point sympathetic to the anarchists -- though without endorsing their views on violence.1

At one time, a large statue of a policeman with a raised hand commanding law and order marked Haymarket's memory. But, since 2004 the Haymarket site has been commemorated by a set of neutral bronze figures atop and beside a wagon. The base of the monument is marked with words that reinterpret Haymarket as a symbol for progressive movements in favor of "free speech, the right of public assembly, organized labor, the fight for the eight-hour workday, law enforcement, justice, anarchy, and the right of human beings to pursue an equitable and prosperous life."2 Meanwhile, the statue of the policeman, having been bombed twice during 1969-70, stands out of public view inside Chicago police headquarters. That juxtaposition of symbols more than any words suggests that the silence of the four anarchists hanged on that dark November day in 1887 has become simply deafening.

1. "The Dramas of Haymarket," an online website co-sponsored by the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University, can be accessed here ; Henry David, The History of the Haymarket Affair (New York: Collier Books, 1963; orig. publ. 1936); Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); James Green, Death in the Haymarket (New York: Pantheon, 2006); also see Haymarket Scrapbook, eds. David R. Roediger and Franklin Rosement (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1986). A good annotated bibliography of books and articles relating to Haymarket, useful for material published before 1993, is Robert W. Glenn, The Haymarket Affair: An Annotated Bibliography(Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1993). 

2. A photograph of the memorial is available online here