The IWW General Administration sent a petition to Washington State governor Jay Inslee in late September requesting a full pardon for the IWW victims of the 1919 Centralia Tragedy. The 2023 Convention of the IWW passed a resolution introduced by the Whatcom-Skagit and Olympia Branches on behalf of the union’s Centralia Monument Committee directing the administration to take this step. We know the letter has been received by the governor and his legal counsel, Ms. Kathryn Leathers.
The IWW Centralia committee sent letters to a number of unions that we know have the governor’s ear, as well as to all twenty two AFl-CIO central labor councils in Washington State asking them to support the petition by writing to Governor Inslee. So far we know that letters have been sent from the Kitsap County Central Labor Council and the Washington State Council of Firefighters.
This pardon campaign coincides with last November’s dedication of a 2×3-foot bronze plaque commemorating the ‘Union Victims of the Centralia Tragedy.’ The monument was purchased by a $20,000 fund raised with contributions from IWW branches, the union’s General Administration, several union locals in Washington, a couple of central labor councils, and too many individuals to count.
The plaque will be mounted on a 2.5-ton granite pedestal, set right next to the monstrous statue glorifying the American Legion men who stormed the IWW hall on November 11, 1919, and paid the price for the assault with their lives. That statue has been there since 1924. The IWW monument will seek to correct a historical lie.
For most of the past century, the narrative in Centralia has largely been that the IWW opened fire unprovoked in some sort of sinister ‘red terror’ plot. The lie is perpetuated in the 20-foot-tall ‘Sentinel’ monument in Centralia, depicting a WWI soldier and an inscription that the Legion men were shot while “on peaceful parade.” Fellow Worker Wesley Everest, lynched the night of November 11, 1919, is named on the IWW’s plaque, along with the IWW members who were tried and convicted in a kangaroo court. So is their lawyer, Elmer Smith, who ruined his health in his efforts to defend our members.
To date we haven’t heard of the Governor’s decision, but we were told it might take a while. There has never been a posthumous pardon in Washington’s history. The state Pardons Board deals with such requests from living persons.
In the meantime, fundraising continues to pay for installation of the massive monument in Centralia. Contributions can be made through the Centralia Monument GoFundMe or by check made to ‘IWW Monument’ and sent to Whatcom-Skagit GMB, IWW, PO Box 192, Bellingham, WA, 98227.