Jerry Summers: Christmas Night Massacre In South Pittsburg In 1927

Friday, September 13, 2019 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

In 1927 the quiet joys of Christmas came to an abrupt halt as a result of a shootout in downtown South Pittsburg, Tn., on the night of Dec. 25, 1927.

South Pittsburg during this period was the scene of bitter labor disputes involving union supporters and members and non-union advocates for a period of approximately eight years.  The City of South Pittsburg was born in 1873 on the west bank of Tennessee approximately 30 miles from the railroad hub of Chattanooga.  The original plan was for the little town to grow into a major southern industrial city similar to Birmingham, Ala., in the stove industry. 

In 1886 the Perry Stove Company, based in Albany, N.Y., moved to South Pittsburg.  As the result of management signing a national trade agreement with the International Molders Union of North America in 1891, South Pittsburg was heavily unionized.  An anti-union company from Memphis, Tennessee, H. Wetter Manufacturing Company, bought the stove company and in the 1920’s became the town of South Pittsburg’s largest employer.  Of the 2,500 residents around 750 worked at Wetter.  Approximately 75 percent of the work force was union members and this percentage increased to around 90 percent after the agreement was signed.  The plant gained a reputation of being a strong union shop with Local 165 becoming the largest and oldest local of the Molders Union in the entire South. 

In the 1920s-1930s bitter labor disputes took place as the unions fought to preserve the status quo of the union shop (mandatory union membership) versus management efforts to adopt the open shop (voluntary union membership). 

These ongoing efforts resulted in litigation in state courts in Marion County at Jasper and the federal district court in Chattanooga.  Beginning in 1925 a number of stove manufacturers initiated a statewide effort to eliminate unions in the region.  A number of strikes resulted in picket lines by the union and petitions to enjoin the strikers from picketing and acts of violence were sought by the companies.  After a costly two-month strike the company finally recognized one of the unions that had not been enjoined from setting up a picket line by the federal injunction and union workers and supporters would not cross the picket and adversely affected the operation of the plant. 

The conflicts that had divided the little town of South Pittsburg did not go away with the ending of the strike.  The Wetter Manufacturing owner announced that he was moving one of his plans to Gadsden, Alabama, because of poor labor conditions. 

Law enforcement officials became heavily involved in the labor controversies.  Pro union Sheriff of Marion County, Washington Coppinger, had defeated open shop supporter Ben Parker in 1926 in a bitter and hostile election that initially involved the issue of raiding moonshine whisky stills but quickly involved the stove company labor dispute.  Parker was subsequently hired as City Marshal in South Pittsburg. 

On the night of Dec. 25, 1927, a gunfight took place at the corner of Cedar Avenue and Third Street in downtown South Pittsburg which resulted in the death of both Sheriff Coppinger and Marshall Parker in addition to four other law enforcement officers killed in the battle.  Governor Henry Horton called in the Tennessee National Guard from Chattanooga to restore order.  For several days 50 soldiers patrolled the streets of South Pittsburg. 

Although some parts of it are disputed by descendants of those involved in the events of 1927 a detailed 18-page article by Barbara S. Haskew and Robert B. Jones written in 2001 titled Labor Strike in the Southern Stove Industry—Shootout at South Pittsburg is an excellent starting reference point covering the history of labor relations in Marion County and southeast Tennessee during the 1920s-1930s.

On July 20, 2014, a two-sided historical marker was placed near the scene of the Christmas night gunfight by the Tennessee Historic Commission which was sponsored by the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society. 

The local society also maintains a historical museum which includes memorabilia from this important chapter in the life of South Pittsburg as well as artifacts from all aspects of the town. 

* * *

Jerry Summers can be reached at jsummers@summersfirm.com


 


Jerry Summers: Hamilton County's Deadliest Train Wreck

CDOT Announces Upcoming Road Closures

Presidential Doppelgängers To Visit Miller Plaza Monday


The family of W.J. Woodward lived in the rural area of Jersey about 10 miles northeast of Chattanooga in February, 1897 (Jersey Pike area). It was a large family with several children that worked ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Department of Transportation announces the following road closures: Reminder: 629 Market St. The Market Street closure started Friday at 1 p.m. between 6th Street and 7th ... (click for more)

George Washington sightings will be available at Miller Plaza on Monday, President’s Day, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Presidential doppelgängers will interact with the community, educating people about ... (click for more)


Happenings

Jerry Summers: Hamilton County's Deadliest Train Wreck

The family of W.J. Woodward lived in the rural area of Jersey about 10 miles northeast of Chattanooga in February, 1897 (Jersey Pike area). It was a large family with several children that worked in the cornfields and frequently traveled to Chattanooga to shop for basic goods. One of the girls, Lizzie, had recently married Ira Montgomery and they were planning to move from Jersey ... (click for more)

CDOT Announces Upcoming Road Closures

Chattanooga Department of Transportation announces the following road closures: Reminder: 629 Market St. The Market Street closure started Friday at 1 p.m. between 6th Street and 7th Street for crane installation. This closure is in effect until Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 5 a.m. Detours are posted via Broad Street. Ely Road at Hixson Pike Beginning Monday, Feb. 17 at ... (click for more)

Breaking News

New Contract For Supt. Bryan Johnson Includes Raise To $240,000 Per Year; Chance To Earn More

A new contract for County School Supt. Bryan Johnson that is expected to be approved by a majority of the School Board on Thursday includes a significant raise to a base pay of $240,000. His base pay was $197,500 when he got a four-year contract in 2017. That contract is not due to run out until 2021. But the board majority is expected to move ahead with a new four-year contract ... (click for more)

Police Blotter: Thieves Fire Up Marijuana In Stolen 2013 Chevy; Women Walk Out On $27.38 Tab

A man who left his 2013 Chevrolet at 311 Chestnut St. said someone got inside and stole it. The man said he is in possession of the only key for the vehicle. He said he did not know how the suspect(s) were able to start the vehicle. The OnStar vehicle tracker was able to track the vehicle to an alley off E. 42nd Street between 15th and 16th Avenues. The vehicle was found unoccupied. ... (click for more)

Opinion

The Emergency Services Problem At Big Ridge

I have lived on Big Ridge for years but in the last few months, I’ve become increasingly concerned about emergency services to residents on the ridge. It is my understanding that Lake Resort Drive used to be the preferred route for emergency vehicles when answering calls on the ridge. However in February 2019, Lake Resort Drive was reduced to one lane when part of the road failed ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Drinking In The Hospital

When I wrote about my newfound love for every employee of Siskin Hospital on Valentine’s Day, I got a rash of notes from some of the honchos. Not only did it warm my heart, but I had sent in some money for a ticket to this year’s Possibilities Luncheon, which will be on March 3rd. Donna Deweese, who handles special events for the hospital, wrote that I might get to sit with my ageless ... (click for more)