The Central Labor Union wanted to unionize Chattanooga Railway and Light Company, the main trolley company in the area. At the union’s behest, motorman William M. Eaves stopped his trolley at Sixth and Market and walked off the job. This action on Aug. 21, 1916, initiated the strike against the company. It also caused a riot.
Prior to Eaves’ action, the union held a short meeting for motormen interested in unionizing the CRLC. They notified them of the strike. On schedule, Eaves left his trolley. The stranded evening passengers got out and began lining Market Street, watching as the pro-union motormen and their sympathizers pulled down trolley poles, and officials and employees of CRLC tried to prevent it.
During the initial half-hour, the police did very little. They stayed out of the tussle except to ensure that no serious injuries were inflicted. However, as more off-duty employees arrived at the scene to attempt to get the trolleys operational, the crowd grew to watch the spectacle. The conflict spread down Market Street toward 10th Street. The situation became more serious. Emotions ran high. People yelled and screamed at each other. Some threw rocks, breaking a few trolley windows.
After an hour and a half, police with shotguns arrived. They began arresting people. They arrested one young lawyer with a tennis racket. The police mistakenly thought he was part of the problem. However, more cops were needed. The riot had spread to other locations, such as Main and Market, as well as Rossville Avenue.
The police and fire commissioner called out the fire department. Beginning at 10th Street, firemen hosed the crowd to disperse them. The pressurized water had the desired effect. The soaked crowd dispersed, and the riot ended.
The strike, however, continued for a few more days. Trolley service was interrupted. After four days, the company recognized the union, and on Aug. 26, full trolley service for Chattanooga resumed.
David Schmidt is an avid history buff. He and his family moved to Chattanooga several years ago. He has fallen in love with the community and its history. You can contact him directly at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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