Why this tribute to Job Harriman?
Job Harriman did not succeed in his bid for office, nor did he succeed in his utopian experiment, yet he did contribute greatly as he changed the landscape of American politics, unionism, and millions of lives.
Looking back from the 21st century we might, as I do, disagree with many of his ideas. Yet, we must admire the man for his relentless fight for justice, for his idealism, and unwavering determination. Below is a summary of his life's story, one that shaped not just Los Angeles but freedom of speech in the United States and even Mexican politics.
Job Harriman was born in Indiana in 1861, however, even fresh out of college he proved to be more than an average hosier. Job Harriman became an ordained minister, a lawyer, and a speaker recognized for his intensity and charisma.
In 1886 he moved to San Francisco and entered politics. Lead by his sense of justice, in a move ahead of its time, Job Harriman started the Pacific Nationalist Club with the mission of discussing and promoting economic and racial equality.
Job Harriman then married his college roommate's sister, Mary Theodosia Gray and, in 1895 they had twins, a girl and a boy. Sadly, the girl died as a child.
The Harriman's then moved to Los Angeles where Job Harriman continued his successful political activism and in 1898 became the gubernatorial candidate for the Socialist Labor Party. He was not able to capture California but his gubernatorial race propelled him into an even larger stage.
In 1900 Job Harriman became the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party partnered with Presidential candidate Eugene Debs. They run against William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican ticket, and William Bryan and Adlai E Stevenson for the Democratic ticket.
In 1900 Job Harriman became the
Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party.
While Harriman did not success at winning public office, his powerful case on behalf of the working class moved California and the nation.
As Harriman traveled around the country he had the opportunity to increase his influence and build the socialist base and labor union support. Gaining the union support was not easy. Socialists and trade unionists would often argue. Some of the trade unionists were quite conservative and had actually been registered Republicans.
In spite of the differences between unionist and socialists, they managed to work together through the influence and prompting of the likes of Job Harriman. This was a fact that in Los Angeles, Harrison Otis and other conservative wealthy individuals found very threatening and eventually brought a head-on collision between Harriman and Otis.
At the time challenges were everywhere but there were many successes as well as some failures. Ironically, it was the failures that created conditions and institutions that would propel Harriman to the next stage and provide enduring value.
One of the most well known confrontations developed when Harrison Otis and his supporters manipulated city leader into passing a law restricting free speech. On the basis of that law a blind socialist orator, J. B. Osborne, was arrested. Harriman took up Osborne's defense but lost the case when, unbelievably by today's standards, a judge ruled that the city had a constitutional right to outlaw free speech. From this setback, and a similar event involving socialist and politician Upton Sinclair, came the birth of the Southern California Civil Liberties Union, an organization of tremendous importance even today.
Otis and the city leaders suppressed free speech by insisting on a city permit for any group desiring to assemble publicly. It so happened that socialists couldn't get permits, whereas Christian evangelical groups could. Job Harriman was the Socialists' choice to handle the case. By 1908, Harriman was widely known as the free-speech socialist lawyer of Los Angeles.
By 1908, Job Harriman was widely known as
the free-speech socialist lawyer of Los Angeles.
In spite of all that was accomplished, Harriman still needed to cement his credibility with his more militant socialists. Taking the case of the Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon helped Harriman accomplish that.
Magon was living in Los Angeles in exile from the corrupt and brutal, American-supported dictator, Porfirio Diaz. Otis supported Diaz as he had interests that included 850,000 acres in Mexico. Otis manipulated the Los Angeles police to helped harass enemies of the Diaz regime. An enemy of Diaz was an enemy of Otis.
In spite of Otis and his corrupt associates, Los Angeles was a haven for prominent members of the Mexican Revolution. Magon had come to Los Angeles in 1907, and continued publishing the newspaper Regeneracion, which was suppressed in Mexico. However, in Los Angeles, three police detectives, kept Magon and other Partido Liberal Mexicano members under surveillance. One of them, Rico, was well known for planting evidence against socialists.
Only a few months after Magon's arrival the Mexican embassy said he was wanted for murder and treason. He was also charged with inciting a strike even though he had been in Canada at the time of the murder he was wanted for. If taken to Mexico, Magon would have been sent before a firing squad. Job Harriman defended Magon against the trumped-up charges and Magon was exonerated. Magon then proceeded to launch the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
1910 developed into a tumultuous year in which every trade in Los Angeles went on strike. Among the strikers were butchers, trolley car operators, painters, printers, brewers and high-rise iron workers, to mention a few.
To combat the situation Harrison Otis, publisher of the Los Angles Times, and the anti-union Merchant and Manufacturers Association sought and won passage of the anti-picketing ordinance again restricting free speech. As a result over 500 workers were arrested for violating the new law. Job Harriman took immediate action to defend the picketers and few were convicted.
Seeing the need for justice Job Harriman decided to move against the establishment and run for mayor. As part of his campaign he had 20,000 pamphlets handed out in Los Angeles against the open shop. This action increased his popularity and soon doubled the Socialist Party membership. A predictable strong reaction came from anti-union group led by Otis. Tensions were very high. Sill adding more to the controversy was that Harriman's slate included a black city council candidate.
On Oct. 1, 1910, an explosion tore apart a corner of the Los Angeles Times building setting off a fire that killed 20 men. The paper immediately blamed the bomb on the unions putting out a special edition, "Unionist Bombs Wreck the Times." The Los Angeles Times headlines, however, backfired on Otis. The public turned against him for letting The Times become a firetrap with its obsolete gas lighting system.
Otis then undertook a six month manhunt zeroing in on John and Jim McNamara. The two men, who were labor activists, were arrested for planting the bomb in "Ink Alley". Labor saw this as another frame-up by Otis and further increasing tensions.
Harriman was soon enlisted among the lawyers planning the McNamara brothers� defense. This gave Harriman even more labor support and the slogan heard in L.A. was "Fight Otis, organize the city, elect a Socialist mayor--Job Harriman."
The battle-cry in Los Angeles was:
"Fight Otis, organize the city, elect a Socialist mayor--Job Harriman."
While the court fight was raging over the McNamaras, and while the campaign was running high, Job Harriman was also promoting the Owens Valley-to-Los Angeles aqueduct. In this he, yet again, came head-to-head with Otis. Harriman believed that the citizens of Los Angeles, who were paying for the aqueduct, should profit instead of Otis, who was buying up the San Fernando Valley, a direct beneficiary from the aqueduct.
The fact was that in the turmoil of the days prior to the election, the plea was entered through a legal partner and Job Harriman was not aware of it or the McNamaras' guilt. Otis, however, was well aware of it since it had been his operatives that had planted the idea in the McNamaras' heads and provided incentives, as we later found out. For Otis it was a perfect plan, make someone he knew Harriman would defend bomb Otis's own newspaper, force them to confess, destroy Harriman's chances of realizing what would have otherwise been a sure win, and finally, pocket the huge profits from the aqueduct. Unfortunately, sometimes dirty politics and crime do pay.
Job Harriman, however, was a principled man and he was not easily dissuaded. In 1913 he again ran for mayor and this time he was only 800 votes short of victory.
Frustrated by his defeats at the ballot box but still optimistic, and strongly believing in the socialist cause, Harriman pursued the establishment of a utopian society. All he needed was land, water, and people.
Job Harriman pursued the establishment of
an utopian society, Llano del Rio.
The search for land led to the Mescal Water and Land Company, which was almost bankrupt. They owned 10,000 acres of arid high Mojave Desert northwest of Mt. Blady, between Mescal and Big Rock Creek.
Before long Harriman and five partners purchased 2,000 acres of the land for $80,000 and founded the "gateway to the future" in Llano del Rio. The land had water rights.
Ads were placed in socialistic newspapers for families who wished to join the utopian settlement. Each family was asked for $500 cash and a minimum of $2000 in personal property. The property went into a "common storehouse" to be used for the good of the entire community.
By 1914, in part due to Harriman's personal magnetism, a collection of 1,000 left-wing activists were ready to move to Antelope Valley's Llano del Rio. At first only 5 families moved but they were soon followed by other mostly living in tents. As the winter set in the tents were replaced by adobe buildings and businesses were built such as a sawmill, lime kiln, dairy, cannery, bakery, printing plant, hotel, offices, barns and houses, apiaries, and poultry yards. A school was also started that soon had 100 children.
By 1916, the organization was thriving and it was becoming the envy of farmers, businessmen, and politicians throughout California. It was so successful that the colony "imported" only 25% of its essential needs.
By 1916 Job Harriman's utopian society was becoming
the envy of farmers, businessmen, and politicians throughout California.
The first test to the utopian community came when surrounding non-community farmers started complaining that Llano del Rio was consuming more than its share of water. Llano del Rio was just growing too fast. As a result, Harriman found himself spending half his time in a tent with colonists and half his time at his office in Los Angles fighting lawsuits over water rights. Still, a bigger test to the community emerged when the Llano experiment began to falter due to squabbling about money and work assignments.
A much bigger problem than water was the fact that farmers started to complain that regardless of how hard or how long they worked they could not improve their living conditions. Reality was knocking at the door of idealism.
Still the most immediate and severe problem was water. For this reason in 1918 Harriman found a new site for utopia in Leesville, Louisiana. After a difficult move, the community endured into the mid-1930s, but for health reasons Harriman could not stay in the damp location.
After handing over matters to his associates, Job Harriman returned to Los Angeles and lived with his wife at the Melrose Hotel on Bunker Hill until his death in 1925.
Job Harriman was survived by his wife, Mary Theodosia Gray, and his son Gray Chenoweth Harriman. Mary Theodosia Gray was an accomplished woman herself having written and translasted numerous christian books. She died March 15,1949 in San Joaquin Co, California. After his father's death, Gray Chenoweth Harriman went to work for the US State Department heading the representation to Brazil and then Uruguay. While in Brazil he married Viola Eleonora Kitching with whom, in 1931, he had a son, Gray Job Harriman. In 1934 Gray Chenoweth Harriman divorced and returned to the United State.
Did Job Harriman and other like-minded progressives
"lose the battle but win the war"?
While Job Harriman lost his vice-presidential bid, and two times lost his run for Mayor of Los Angeles, the principle of having all contribute to the common good has prevailed. Today's Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs would have seemed like dreams-come-true to the socialists of the early twentieth century. Otis and other conservatives might have delayed progress by temporarily distracting Americans with political maneuverings and even crime, but they did not kill America's sense of fairness and moral responsibility. The idea that government should provide assistance to the needy and those facing unforeseen adversity is stronger today than ever before. Those principles and freedom of expression are what Job Harriman fervently fought for. Let's not forget the sacrifice of those that made our present possible. Let's honor those that regardless of the odds stood for what they believed to be right. Thanks to them we are who we are.
Llano del Rio by Donald L. Clucas, online resource.
The Socialists take LA -- Almost.
The Secret History Of L.A.'s Fight For Free Speech by Lionel Rolfe
American Utopia: A Brief History of Llano del Rio Colony by Louisiana Public Broadcasing
Antelope Valley FAQs by Community Libraries, Lancaster Library.
L.A. Then and now: A Socialist who almost was Mayor, by Cecilia Rasmussen.
Harriman family records