JOHN RAMEY - “KILLED IN LAWRENCE STRIKE”
During the great Textile Strike of 1912, unrest permeated beyond the downtown mill district into the neighborhoods. The Strike, in the midst of one of the coldest winters and not expected to last long, had already exceeded the second week. By order of Governor Foss (also a mill owner), an additional twelve companies of infantry and two troops of cavalry were brought into Lawrence to enforce order in the neighborhoods after the shooting death of Anna Lopizzo. It was the mindset of Colonel Sweetser to take a hard line and keep the people off the streets. He forbade parades, open air meetings and gatherings of three or more. This was to root out the agitators and intimidate the general population into “Law and Order”.
Tensions were high at the end of January. Militia on the streets; dynamite planting and attempt to blame the workers; the funeral plans of the first victim, Anna; the trolley car attack; and the arrest of union leader Ettor brings us to the morning of Tuesday, January 30, 1912.
A large group of Lebanese, referred to as Syrians in those days, gathered at the corner of Oak and White Streets in the midst of their neighborhood, to prepare to demonstrate. Commonly called the “Singing Strike” because the diverse ethnic groups rallied around the themes of labor as they sang in their own languages, these rally parades were often accompanied by musicians. As it was on that morning, the Syrian band members were present and the young John Ramey, 20, was readying for the parade, practicing on his cornet. A detachment approached the banned rally and exchanges were made. The militia processed in a charge-bayonet position and as Ramey retreated he was punctured in the back with a bayonet. He was taken to Lawrence General Hospital in critical condition and died that Tuesday, January 30. This was reported by the newspaper as a workers riot and even questioned the bayonet theory. The Ramey relatives called for Colonel Sweetser to make a thorough inquiry which resulted in Lawrence Representative Graham presenting a “Petition of Compensation For Wrongful Death” of Ramey to the Committee of Rules at the State House
On Thursday, February 1st, John Ramey’s service was held at St. Anthony’s Church, followed by a thirty carriage cortege and contingency of hundreds of Lebanese compatriots. Rev. Fr. Gabriel Bastany eulogized Ramey as a martyr for his family and fellow workers and started a collection for Ramey’s monument: ”Killed in Lawrence Strike.” As Big Bill Haywood said on Feb.2, 1912, at Chabis Hall, “Remember that you are fighting more than your own fight…you are fighting for the entire working class and you must stand together.” The Strike would continue until March 14th with yet another
victim, Jonas Smolskas, who would die because of the Strike .
After 96 years, a new monument was placed at John Ramey’s grave this morning, thanks to the help of the Ramey family and the American Lebanese Awareness Association (ALAA). This completes the memorials of the three strike victims, all buried close by in St. Mary’s-Immaculate Conception Cemetery. John Ramey will be honored before the performance of ZilZala, which will perform Lebanese music, and the ALAA has an information table at the festival. Also, John Ramey’s story will be discussed at our Lawrence History Live! tent at 2:30, followed by a tour focused on his role in the strike.