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1934 Protest
Source: "Historical stories: about Greenville and Bond County, IL"
Written in 2000, By Allan H. Keith, Published ©2002
Used with permission

Greenville is a quiet community, with its courthouse square and tree-lined streets, and hasn't been known through the years for its protest demonstrations.

But an exception occurred on the morning of April 18, 1934, during the depth of the Great Depression and about a year after President Franklin D,. Roosevelt took office and started his New deal programs.

Hundreds of unemployed people on relief marched through Greenville's downtown area to lodge 18 "demands" relating to their treatment as recipients of emergency supplies, such as food and clothing.

A crowd estimated at between 500 and 600 people formed at the foot of Mill Hill and then marched into the business district, around the town square and then a few more blocks to the local headquarters of the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission, located at Oak Avenue and First Street.

The parade was headed by a man carrying a large American flag. Other marchers carried banners with slogans such as "We Want Milk," "Fair Distribution of Surplus," and "Doctor, Dental, Optical, Hospital Service."

Other placards asked "50 percent Representation on Relief Board" and pay at the rate of 62 1/2 cents an hour in a work program soon to be initiated.

One of the 10 demands read: "More surplus relief, more varieties, such as flour, meat, butter, eggs, cheese, lard, vegetables and fruits in season, also replacement of meat which was delivered to us which was unfit to eat this month.'

There was no violence. In fact, the relationship between protesters and the authorities was rather amicable. The Greenville Advocate reported that the Bond County sheriff and deputy sheriff provided the day's food for the demonstrators.

Virtually all the protesters were from outlying small communities in Bond County, such as Pocahontas, Old Ripley, Panama, Reno and Sorento.

Leaders of the delegation conferred with relief administrators from 11:15 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. and then the gathering broke up and everyone went home. The list of demands was sent to the relief commission state office at Chicago.

The relief programs were funded by state and federal funds.

The 1934 demonstration was not an isolated one. Similar protests were staged in a number of other places in the United States, possibly the most vociferous being one involving unemployed men and women in Minneapolis. There, on April 6 an estimated 4,000 people, including some Communists, battled with police for hours and demanded work and improved relief efforts.

(Allan H. Keith, formerly of Greenville, is a free-lance writer and lives in Mattoon.)


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