San Francisco's Future

Description

By mid-1916, the images of carnage in Europe and Germany’s submarine attacks on Allied shipping turned U.S. public opinion against Austria and Germany, increasing the likelihood of American participation in World War I. “Preparedness” demonstrations, to bolster support for the American military should the nation enter the war, were organized nationwide, particularly in important cities such as New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. Radical labor was a small but vociferous minority, opposed to U.S. involvement in the war, capable of stirring up labor unrest and provoking strong reactions from the authorities. The huge San Francisco Preparedness Day parade of Saturday, July 22, 1916, became the target of radical violence. As a pamphlet of mid-July explained, "We are going to use a little direct action on the 22nd to show that militarism can't be forced on us and our children without a violent protest." The procession had 51,329 marchers, including 2,134 organizations and 52 bands. The starting signals for the parade, ironically, were "the crash of a bomb and the shriek of a siren." Military, civic, judicial, state, and municipal divisions were followed by newspaper, telephone, telegraph, and streetcar unions. Half an hour into the parade, a bomb exploded on Steuart Street near Market Street. The bomb was concealed in a suitcase; ten bystanders were killed and 40 wounded in the worst terrorist act in San Francisco history. This short film, with its animated propagandistic prologue and its title, San Francisco’s Future, sought to motivate viewers to make the right choice between prosperity and justice on the one hand and anarchy, sedition, and lawlessness on the other. It was made shortly after the bombing and was clearly aimed at local audiences. San Francisco screamed with anger and outrage at the bombing. Two known radical labor leaders – Thomas Mooney (circa 1882 –1942) and his assistant, Warren K. Billings (1893 –1972) – were arrested. In a hasty and bungled trial carried out in a lynch-mob atmosphere that featured several false witnesses, the two were convicted. Mooney was sentenced to be executed; Billings to life imprisonment. A Mediation Commission set up by President Woodrow Wilson found no clear evidence of Mooney’s guilt, and in 1918 his sentence was changed to life imprisonment. By 1939, evidence of perjury and false testimony at the trial had become overwhelming. Governor Culbert Olson pardoned both men. The identity of the bomber will probably never be known.

Last updated: November 14, 2017