Ceremonial dedication for IWW Centralia Tragedy Monument set for Sunday


Just over seven months ago, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union unveiled a new bronze memorial plaque in Centralia’s George Washington Park for the IWW victims of the Centralia Tragedy of 1919.

It was unveiled on the Centralia Tragedy’s 104th anniversary, Nov. 11, 2023. Following the unveiling, the IWW Centralia Monument Committee set about acquiring a granite foundation for the plaque to complete their memorial monument. 

The plaque’s base — a 7,500-pound granite pedestal produced by Centralia Monument — was finally completed and installed at the park on Tuesday, June 18.

An official dedication for the completed monument is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, according to an IWW news release. The public is invited to attend Sunday’s ceremony at George Washington Park, located at 110 S. Silver St. in downtown Centralia.

Now completed, the monument is located just northwest of The Sentinel, a statue that was dedicated at the park on Nov. 11, 1924, to the four American Legion members who were killed during the Centralia Tragedy, which has also been referred to over time as the Centralia Massacre, though that moniker is offensive to IWW members and others who disagree with the narrative that emerged after the violence.

“The ‘Union Victims’ monument honors the men who were lynched or sentenced to prison for defending their union hall from attack on Nov. 11, 1919,” the release stated. “All of them were IWW members though several were also coal miners in the United Mine Workers.”

Designed by the IWW Centralia Monument Committee, the Union Victims monument was funded by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Central Labor Council, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, other local unions and the IWW’s branches and administration, along with contributions from over 200 individual workers from around the U.S.

Additionally, members of the Laborers Local 252 union apprentice program poured the new monument’s concrete base, according to the news release.

It was on Nov. 11, 1919, during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia following the end of World War I in 1918, when, according to some accounts, Legionnaires from the local American Legion post halted in front of the IWW’s union hall.

Tensions had been building up between the two groups for several years leading up to that fateful day over political and ideological differences, and some clashes between them had already occurred including a previous Legionnaire raid of an IWW union hall.

IWW members were pushing for better wages, hours and living quarters for loggers in the region’s booming timber industry, while Legionnaires believed the IWW was essentially a criminal organization responsible for multiple labor strikes and spreading communist ideals.

While it is debated to this day what started the Centralia Tragedy of 1919, four Legionnaires were killed in the ensuing skirmish and the union hall was raided again.

Legionnaires claim they were peacefully marching in the parade and were attacked unprovoked, while IWW members claim the Legionnaires were planning a raid on the union hall before the parade.

Once the IWW members heard rumors of a possible raid, they prepared to defend their union hall, as a previous Legionnaire raid left the old hall destroyed, according to reporting at the time. 

Union members maintain they were simply defending their hall on that day, which is why the IWW Centralia Monument Committee has spent at least two decades fighting to get the plaque placed in the park.

Nine IWW members were arrested in the subsequent chaos that day. Those arrested included Eugene Barnett, Ray Becker, Bert Bland, Ora Commodore “O.C.” Bland, John Lamb, James McInerney, Loren Roberts, Britt Smith and Wesley Everest.

Everest, who was drafted during the first World War and served in Washington as a logger producing timber for airplane production, never saw a trial as he was abducted from the town’s jail and lynched the night following the skirmish.

Elmer Smith, the local attorney who represented the remaining eight IWW members at their trial as they were tried for murder, was disbarred for defending the men.

All eight IWW members ended up being found guilty of second-degree murder and all spent at least a decade in prison, if not longer.

Earlier this year, the IWW requested posthumous pardons from Gov. Jay Inslee for all eight union members.

To learn more about the Centralia Tragedy of 1919, visit https://bit.ly/3s6t1RR