Worst Lynching Force

Westbrook Pegler

Tampa Tribune/February 24, 1949

In view of the fact that a jury endorsed his conduct in shooting a rioting goon of the CIO through the head and killing him, the experience of Fred Lee Roberts, of Waterloo, Ia., a law-abiding laborer and himself a union man, should interest other citizens who are facing goon trouble.

The ClO’s organized mobs of goons, courteously known as pickets, have been the worst lynching force in our history, with a record of terrorism incomparably blacker than that of the original Ku Klux Klan. And there is no union of the CIO with a worse record than that of Philip Murray’s own steel workers which, in its organizing days, went marauding over Ohio and Illinois and only recently revived its old practice of overturning the automobiles of good citizens on their way to work.

The principle, always inherent in law but long dormant, is now revived that a law-abiding citizen may kill a picket if he is attacked and reasonably fears that he may be seriously injured and the police refuse to protect him. The picket never has any lawful excuse to shoot the law-abiding citizen.

Frank W. Edwards, of Waterloo, Ia., who defended Fred Lee Roberts against a charge of manslaughter, and got him acquitted, has written some intimate facts of the case at my request.

Roberts, a Negro, about 50 years old, weight 150 pounds, father of 13 children, maintaining a home for the nine younger ones, had a record of 28 years of employment in two jobs and a respectable reputation. As a member of the Packing House Workers of the CIO, he obeyed a call to strike but finally returned to work to feed his family.

“The pickets had a loud speaker,” Edwards writes, “and over the speaker they called those who were working scabs, yellow-bellied rats and skunks. Roberts went quietly about his business. His car was parked on the company lot and he found the air let out of his tires. The loud speaker taunted him and he had to walk several blocks to get the tires inflated. Pickets approached him as he was leaving the plant and told him ‘This is your last warning.” The next day he put an Army .45 on the floor between the two front seats.

“On the 19th of May, 1948, some men had come down from another state and told the local union they were conducting this strike like a Sunday school party and must get rough. There was liquor present and all day there was rioting. The assistant chief of police had been trampled and the police had abandoned efforts to get anyone in or out of the plant. All this was unknown to Roberts who lives 20 miles away. A crowd barred his entrance and no police near. The mob surrounded his car and began to rock it. They lifted it up and let it drop and shouted: ‘Tip this jig over,’ ‘Kill him.’

“Fearing that they meant to tip over his car and kill him he brandished the pistol. The mob receded but when he put it down and started away they surrounded him again and said “Tip him over,’ ‘Kill him’.”

Edwards here elaborated a claim that Roberts did. not shoot to kill, although he based his defense on a claim that a man attacked has a right to use adequate means to defend himself.

Roberts fired and the mob scattered, and he got away.

“A policeman jumped on the running board and told him to get away quick,” Edwards continued. “When he had gone a block and a half they got him in a police car and took his gun and took him to the police station. When all this rocking his car and threats to kill him were going on not a single policeman came to his rescue although 10 or a dozen were within 100 feet. The evidence showed the deceased (a picket named Chuck Farrell) was getting into the car by the right door when the shot was fired.

“Our court has held that the legality of the possession of the weapon at the time of the killing is immaterial. It has also been held that when a man is in his car it is his home and he need not retreat before defending himself if attacked. He must have reason to fear that his life and property are in danger.

“Soon after the shooting the mob tore down the iron fence and turned over cars and broke windshields and damaged 12 to 15 cars. Those who were in the plant were afraid to come out until morning when the National Guard came. The sheriff made one request of Governor Blue and he ordered the Guard here immediately. The CIO defeated Governor Blue in the primary for his part in the matter.”

This being the law as of now, the rights and dignity of American citizenship are appreciably revived. Henceforth the good citizen under such attack by Philip Murray’s goons of the CIO will have a right to pick a picket and shoot him in the head.


(Source: Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/327611078/)


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