After World War I, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer led a campaign to arrest, imprison and deport thousands of supposedly subversive political radicals. Prompted by labor unrest and a series of anarchist bombings in 1919—including one that damaged Palmer’s home—the so-called Palmer raids began in November of that year. The second round of raids, in January 1920, netted up to 1,000 people in Detroit alone; the prisoners were stocked in shocking, inhumane conditions. Many were tortured and left to starve. In The Nation, Frederick R. Barkley, a reporter at The Detroit News, wrote in “Jailing Radicals in Detroit” (January 31, 1920):

This is the situation in Detroit today. Nearly 400 men, citizens and aliens are free again after being confined for one to two weeks under conditions of horror, confined because their peaceful assemblage, guaranteed by the Constitution, led the Department of Justice to suspect that their beliefs, also protected under the Constitution, were inimical to the peace and safety of 110,000,000 people. Nearly 400 men are free after a taste of “Americanization” that bodes ill for any future Americanizers who do not come backed by the clubs of the police and the constabulary.

Nearly 400 men, and hundreds more women and children, have had the seeds of hatred sown in their breasts…As for those Detroiters who may sometime have read the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, or remembered the proud boast that this was the land of freedom for exiles from autocratic Europe, a revulsion silent, but none the less deep-seated and stern, has come.

 

January 2, 1920

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