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A CITY IN TERROR: 1919 -- The Boston Police Strike by Francis Russell

A CITY IN TERROR: 1919 -- The Boston Police Strike


Pub Date: May 19th, 1975
Publisher: Viking

Russell, who later became an American historian, was in the fourth grade when the Boston police not only went on strike over low pay and vile working conditions, but took the drastic step of attempting to join the AFL national confederation. Russell's father, a lawyer, rushed off to join the strike-breaking militia, and the narrative maintains a corresponding kind of wide-eyed pint-sized view of the rabble versus the respectable powers. While the Boston workers supported the police strikers by pushing for a general strike--which the AFL leadership rejected, therefore guaranteeing the cops' defeat--the ""plug-uglies"" took the occasion to loot, gang-bang, and riot. Russell recounts their goings-on with such relish that one is surprised to finally learn that only eight people were killed. The book only perfunctorily places this event in the context of the worldwide 1919 mass strikes (it took something of that proportion to induce the conservative Irish-American ""Boston's Finest"" to grow militant about their substandard wages and bedbug-infested dorms). Rather, Russell dwells informatively_and sometimes astutely on the Massachusetts politicians involved. For once, Coolidge comes to life as a canny, cool--and belated--spokesman for law and order in Boston. Poor Mayor Peters lingers in one's mind chiefly as the seducer, with ether, of an 11-year-old niece. The book takes the tone of rising above middle.class hysteria toward strikes, riots, Bolshevism and so forth, hut in the last resort reflects that overheated atmosphere above all. Russell cites abundant sources at the end but has not enabled the reader to refer any particular statement to any definite source. A titillating chronicle, and at the same time a special Boston-1919 reference.