The hot days of midsummer in 1935 brought a bloody battle to Tacoma and the city side of the Murray Morgan Bridge. Then known as the 11th street bridge, it was the gateway to the mills and waterfront workplaces on the tide flats. As the Depression deepened and jobs became scarce, strikes and labor violence began building toward a full out clash between angry workers and government authorities. Governor Clarence Martin sent the 2nd battalion of National Guard to Tacoma in late June in 16 heavy trucks with full munitions and gas weapons. Tensions grew as strikebreakers were beat up and Guardsmen stepped in to escort them back and forth to work over the bridge each day. Finally on July 12th a flag waving parade of workers inflamed the situation by confronting guardsmen in the shadow of the bridge. With the Weyerhaeuser Building, Federal Building and Perkins Building (which was home to a couple newspapers) all facing the intersection, Tacoma’s WTO riots played out over a tense four hours. Workers were bloodied by gun butts and a gas grenade was lobbed back into a Guard truck destroying it but no shots were fired and no one was killed. But the episode left its ghosts. To those loyal to the labor movement in the Northwest , and its accomplishments during the 1930’s, the stand at the bridge was momentous. The Tacoma artist Virna Haffer, who was married to a union organizer, loved the bridge as a subject and a symbol of that stand. It helped her remember.
Its important to have a bridge that gets us to the tideflats but that’s not the only reason Tacoma saved the Murray Morgan Bridge. We need to remember too.