Filed Under Protest

May Day Riot

In 1919, the United States was experiencing its first "Red Scare." Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, public sentiment against Socialists - who maintained a strong presence in Cleveland during this era - was high. Many viewed the Socialists and their sympathizers as a threat to American society.

The 1919 Cleveland May Day Riot began when a World War I veteran took offense at the red flags being proudly waved by Socialist demonstrators as they marched toward Public Square. A fight broke out, and soon enough a melee between Socialist and anti-Socialist citizens ensued. The violence was only quelled after the intervention of police and military units. At one point during the widespread rioting, a mob stormed and ransacked the Socialist Party headquarters on Prospect Avenue. The riots injured dozens and resulted in two deaths. The event highlighted the simmering tensions that existed in Cleveland after World War I.

This tension would continue well into the 1930s when unionists, leftists, and unemployed workers joined together in a series of strikes and protests under the banner of the Unemployed Council. Although Communist and Socialist movements in the US have waned since World War II, Public Square continues to serve as a setting for protests of all types.

Audio

Origins Of May Day David Goldberg of Cleveland State University explains the origins of May Day Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Socialist Party In Cleveland David Goldberg on the Socialist context of the 1919 May Day riots Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The International Context Of May Day Dr. John Grabowski of Case Western Reserve University explains the international context of the 1919 May Day riot Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The 1919 Cleveland May Day Riots John Grabowski explains the events that took place during the 1919 May Day riot Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Rioters and Police Violence at Public Square on May Day, 1919. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1919
May Day Rioting, 1919 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1919
Captured Banners Anti-socialists display captured banners after the Cleveland May Day riots of 1919. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1919
Veteran Who Started Fight The man pictured here was a military veteran who started a fight with Socialist marchers on May Day, 1919. The fight spiraled into a riot, and violence broke out across Downtown Cleveland. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1919
May Day, 1930 A crowd at Public Square on May Day, 1930 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1930
May Day, 1930 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1930
Young Demonstrators, 1930 This group gathered at Public Square on May Day 1930 consists - at least partially - of members of the Young Communist League. At a time when labor unions often excluded or discriminated against African-Americans, leftist groups were friendly to the needs of black workers and used their influence among the working class to agitate for civil rights and labor reforms. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1930
May Day Demonstration, 1933 At the depth of the Great Depression, thousands of unemployed workers gathered at Public Square under the leadership of the Unemployment Council Committee, an organization affiliated with the Communist Party of the United States. Later that day, the protesters marched to City Hall, demanding unemployment relief. Source: Cleveland State University Special Collections Date: 1933

Location

Metadata

“May Day Riot,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/28.