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Bogalusa LA Strike

Bogalusa, Louisiana, the only city in Washington Parish, is known as "The Magic City." Founded in 1906, Bogalusa was incorporated on July 4, 1914. There had been many settlements of Choctaws in southeastern Louisiana. One of them was an encampment along a creek called Bogue Lusa (Dark Waters). Bogue Lusa Creek flowed eastward into Pearl River through that part of the land which in 1819 became the Parish of Washington, lying hard against the boundary which is the end of the State of Louisiana and the beginning of the State of Mississippi.

News spread rapidly when the Northerners began their purchases of timberlands in the Parish in the late 1890's. Most of the land that became the forest empire of the New York and Pennsylvania interests was bought from absentee owners who had purchased it as a speculative investment when the Government offered it to the public in the 1880's at $1.25 an acre. These early buyers were satisfied that the Government price was a fair bargain and had never bothered to have the standing timber estimated, except by casual horseback cruises. Seldom were there any difficulties for the new owners in determining the validity of these land titles.

Charles Waterhouse Goodyear was fifty-six and Frank Henry Goodyear was fifty-two when the brothers invested nine million dollars in their fifteen-million-dollar venture in Louisiana and Mississippi. Earnings accumulated from lumber and coal enterprises in Pennsylvania provided the necessary funds. Another three million dollars of capital stock was subscribed by the Hamlins and the Crarys, Pennsylvania capitalists, and by Charles I. James, scion of an aristocratic Maryland family. James had been associated before with the Goodyears in their northern hemlock lumber operations, which by this time were approaching depletion. Like many of their contemporaries of comparable industrial achievement and stature, the two brothers who founded this fabulous lumber empire started life with meager beginnings. They were born in a rural settlement near Cortland, New York. Their father, Bradley Goodyear, was a country doctor. The Goodyears made their money during a period when there was no minimum wage and no income tax.

The Great Southern Lumber Company was chartered in Pennsylvania on January 17, 1902. Between 1902 and 1905, the owners purchased vast areas of long-leaf virgin pine timber in Louisiana. In 1906, the Goodyear Family, who were the principal owners, erected a sawmill on the Bogue Lusa Creek in Washington Parish, and began the town of Bogalusa. From these beginnings grew the Great Southern Lumber Company, the largest sawmill in the world from its opening in 1908, until 1938, when it ceased operation. It was also the largest mill sawing yellow pine during its existence. As the Heart Pine resources dwindled, millions of California Redwood trees were railed to this mill to be sawn.

There was no town, lumber mill, or railroad when the project started, so all three essentials to this operation were begun at about the same time. The plan called for a town to house 8,000 people, a mill to manufacture a million feet of lumber each day, and a railroad some 200 or more miles long to run between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi by way of Bogalusa.

William Henry Sullivan, known in his time as "the father of Bogalusa," as general manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company's Bogalusa operations, was in complete charge of the construction of the plant and entire town of Bogalusa. Sullivan held authority in Bogalusa as the head of its lumber camp until he became the town's mayor in 1914 - an office he kept until his death in 1929. By 1929, under Sullivan's direction, the Great Southern Lumber Company had built a company-owned town of 10,000 people. Until 1914, Sullivan ruled Bogalusa as the "headman" of a huge lumber camp, and upon its incorporation that year he became its first mayor, ruling its civic as well as its business affairs until his death in 1929. Observers characterized Sullivan's rule as "paternalistic," akin to that of a "benevolent despot."

As general manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company's operation in Bogalusa, he was in complete charge of the erection of the town in 1907-1908. Quick states that Sullivan "had instructions at all times to build the largest and best equipped plant in the world; to make the town a good town in which to live; to give the people good schools, churches, well arranged homes with electric lights, pure water, sewerage and all modern conveniences; to build good streets, good sidewalks, and to make the town so attractive that men who worked in lumber enterprises would be glad to live in Bogalusa. How well he succeeded in carrying out these instructions, Bogalusa citizens attested for many years.

The Great Southern Lumber Company which owned the lumber mills and the pulp and paper mills at Bogalusa, Louisiana, was perhaps the largest lumber producers in the United States. They claimed that the sawmill located at Bogalusa was the largest mill in the world. They were also connected with several large enterprises; they are interested in the large mill located at Virginia, Minnesota, which they claim to be the next largest mill in the world.

In 1917 they put in a very large pulp and paper mill at the Bogalusa plant, and about that time the workmen at Bogalusa began to try to organize. They asked for organizers, and several attempts were made to help the people there. About this tune a young man named Rodgers, an organizer for the carpenters and joiners, went to Bogalusa and while there was arrested as a suspicious character. He was released after getting the news to some of his friends in New Orleans; however, they claimed that he was a dangerous character and filed charges against him in the federal court and while he was in jail at Bogalusa, the Bogalusa officers had put dynamite caps and fusein his grip. This grip was produced in the federal court as evidence, but their case was so flimsy and so crude that the federal authorities dismissed it without trial.

Later James Leonard, at that time vice-president of the State Federation of Labor and an organizer of the A. F. of L., went to Bogalusa and was told by the authorities there that they would not permit any organizer to come there and organize the men. Mr. Leonard left Bogalusa and returned to New Orleans; however, this did not stop the desire of the workers at Bogalusa, who were in touch with the state federation; and later on W. M. Donnells was sent there as an organizer for the carpenters, and organized the carpenters of the place. Then, in rapid succession, the organization of all lines followed until we had seventeen local unions at the place with a splendid central union.

Seeing that the men had organized in spite of their efforts to thwart it, the company became furious and tried to intimidate the members of the locals; finding that this would not work they then started systematic system of discharging all white union men and putting non-union Negroes to work in their places and at the same time making a great deal of noise and trying to work up a spirit of antagonism to the organization of Negroes, even telling the farmers and planters that we were trying to organize the Negro farm laborers. This forced the hand of labor and a campaign of organization was then begun to organize the Negroes in the employ of the Great Southern Lumber Company. This brought on quite a little feeling. The company called a mass-meeting of the citizens, where several public men, among them a Congressman, made speeches opposing the organization of Negroes. Donnells spoke at that meeting and defended the right of labor to organize. Seeing that the defended the right of labor to organize.

Seeing that the men were determined the company then entered into an agreement to the effect that they would stop discharging the union men if they would cease organizing Negroes. This arrangement was made with the understanding that no union man should be discriminated against or prejudiced in any way because of his membership in a union. This arrangement had not been made thirty days when the company immediately started discharging both white and colored union men, and issued an ultimatum from Mr. W. S. Sullivan, the vice-president and general manager of the plant, that he would not recognize any union man and that he would not meet nor confer with any one representing union labor and instructed his office to so inform Donnells and others.

This agreement was made in April of 1919, and from that time on things happened fast at Bogalusa. Mr. Sullivan, who was vice-president of the Great Southern Lumber Company, was also mayor of the town of Bogalusa. He then placed about thirteen of his henchmen that had not joined labor on the police force of the town. They were augmented by a number of deputies appointed by the sheriff of the parish, and then began a reign of terror in the town.

They tried to get rid of all the leaders by terrorizing them and by offering them bribes to leave the place. Finding this would not work, they sent their employment man to Chicago and other cities to secure three thousand Negroes, with the intent of placing nonunion Negroes in the industries there and forcing the union men to leave. They failed to get any men in Chicago; they did not offer sufficient wages and the men were informed that no labor trouble existed. However, the men knew that they were wanted as strike-breakers and would not go. On failing to get men, they immediately began arresting men, both black and white, on all kinds of trumped-up charges and taking them to the county seat about twelve miles away.

The automobiles furnished the police and deputy sheriffs were used for the purpose of taking the men to the county seat, but the men when discharged for lack of evidence had to get back to Bogalusa any way they could. In addition to this, several men were beaten by these same gunmen; others were ordered to leave, while some of them were offered bribes to leave.

They were continually arresting Negroes for vagrancy and placing them in the city jail. It seemed that a raid is made each night in the section of the town where the Negroes live and all that can be found are rounded up and placed in jail charged with vagrancy. In the morning the employment manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company goes to the jail and takes them before the city court where they are fined as vagrants and turned over to the lumber company under the guard of the gunmen where they were made to work out this fine.

The union men asked the Governor of the state to have federal troops sent to Bogalusa, which he did, and which no doubt prevented bloodshed, as it seemed that the Southern Lumber Company had determined to get rid of all members of labor. Some of the citizens had become aroused over the matter, on one side or the other, till it looked as though a serious situation had been reached, and should the troops be taken away and the gunmen begin again their reign of terror, it seemed almost certain that the citizens would take a hand in the affair. Some of them were friendly to labor while some of them are aiding the gunmen in every way they can.

For some time in the 1920s there had been much disturbance in the city, arising apparently out of friction between the labor union and the Company as to its open shop policy, and an effort to unionize the colored laborers. One one occasion millwrights brought to the city to repair broken machinery which had caused the mill to shut down, had been forced to re-enter the train and leave the city. On another, certain laborers had been put in jail and a crowd of their sympathizers, some of whom were armed, had threatened a jail delivery. On another, the light and water plant, supplied by power from the Company's plant, had been forced to shut down temporarily. And frequently there had been disorders at meetings of the city commission. The general condition finally became so threatening to the public peace and safety that a number of business and professional men organized a League-to which no union members or persons connected with the Company were admitted-for the purpose of assisting the city authorities in maintaining law and order, and offered their services to the city as volunteer police to serve when occasion might require. On the advice of the city judge and attorney and the State district judge, this offer was accepted, and many members of the League were sworn in as such special police. The Commissioner of Public Safety and the Chief of Police also arranged with the manager of the Company that when so requested a siren whistle at the mill, which had been customarily used as a fire alarm, should be sounded to summon the volunteer police.

At the time of his death William Sullivan was Vice President and General Manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company, Executive Vice President of the Bogalusa Paper Company, and a Director of the New Orleans Great Northern Railroad. His house is significant in three areas--architecture, industry, and local history. Set on a large wooded lot, Sullivan's house is a symmetric, two-and-a-half-story frame edifice, which combines elements from the Colonial Revival and Queen Anne styles. The Colonial Revival characteristics may primarily be viewed from the house's exterior; these characteristics include its three-bay colossal order gallery, the front door, the ballroom, Palladian window motif, and dormers. The most architecturally significant Queen Anne feature of the house is its rigid, mannered style. This is exemplary of Queen Anne styled homes built at the turn of the century and expresses the trend to move away from the irregularity of the larger, older Queen Anne houses. The workers in the town came to refer to the home as "Official Quarters." It is located in a section of town called "Little Buffalo" or "Buffalotown" since it was the residential district where many of the company officials who had come from Buffalo, New York, had their homes. The Sullivan House was the largest and grandest of the homes in this section of town.

The Great Southern sawmill closed in 1938 as a result of the economic problems resulting from the Great Depression and insufficient old-growth forests remaining to maintain its operation. However, Sullivan's vision in diversifying the company resulted in the merger of the Goodyear's Gaylord Container Corporation paper mill with the original lumber company in 1937, and it continued operation as a forestry enterprise. In 1954, the Gaylord Container Corporation, successor to the Great Southern Lumber Company, planted its 100 millionth pine seedling in its 110,500-acre forest. This became the largest privately owned man-made forest in North America.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:21:05 Zulu