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A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students

Free Speech in Chicago

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Image of Letter from Emma Goldman
to the Editor of Lucifer the Light-bearer
CONTEXT: Goldman's letter to the editor was published on December 11, 1902, in the anarchist periodical Lucifer the Light-bearer. It alerts readers to the continued police harassment surrounding her lectures and draws ominous conclusions about the future of First Amendment rights in America.

Emma Goldman's Letter to the Editor
(Lucifer the Light-bearer, December 11, 1902)

EDITOR LUCIFER:--For the benefit of those of your readers who still believe that freedom of speech is a reality, and that America is the freest country on earth, permit me to give you a few details of my experience with the Chicago police.

I came to this city to acquaint the American public with the conditions in Russia, and to raise funds for the unfortunate victims of the Russian knout, many of whom have been flogged to death, while others have been sent to long terms of imprisonment, simply because they dared to ask for bread for the suffering Russian peasants.

To my amazement I found two hundred policemen--some of them high officials, at my first meeting; men who came not out of sympathy with the starving Russian people but who were there to take me to the nearest police station should I not meet their own conception of what liberty means.

O Liberty! poor outraged, degraded Liberty. Fallen indeed art thou from thy once lofty height when every petty policeman can soil thy pure form with his foul hands, and trample in the mire of Chicago's streets thy beauteous lineaments.

Since that first meeting the police have followed me from hall to hall, threatening me with arrest if I dared to say anything against the American government. "Say what you please about Russia, but you must not attack OUR institutions," said Captain Campbell to me at a meeting on the West side.

Another little Tzar, Captain Wheeler, went his colleague one better: "I will not have Miss Goldman speak in my district." and prohibited the meeting that was to take place at Aurora Turn Hall, corner of Ashland Ave. and Division street.

Surely there must be something wrong with the American Institutions of today; something terribly black and corrupt, if they cannot stand the light of criticism; if they can thrive only when physical force is used to defend them against the light of free discussion.

This is not the first time that meetings for free discussion have been prohibited here; not the first time speakers have been shadowed from place to place. On previous occasions the Chicago authorities have had to give some excuse for such interference. They have had to plead either public excitement, to radical utterance on the part of the speaker, or some similar excuse as justification of their acts.

What excuse will they give now?

What excuse will the self-styled Jeffersonian-Democratic mayor of Chicago give for the acts of his subordinates?

There is now no public excitement; no radical utterance made--at least not in reference to "our own sacred government."

What other conclusion can be reached, or inference drawn than that America is fast being Russianized, and that unless the American people awake from the pleasant dream into what they have been lulled by the strains of "My Country `tis of Thee," etc., we shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or darkened back rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next door neighbors should hear that free-born American citizens dare not speak in the open; that they have sold the birthright to the Russian Tzar disguised by the coat of American policeman?

Is it not time that SOMETHING BE DONE?

Is it not time that all advanced people unite in protest against such brutal invasion? all, at least, who have enough Americanism left in them to maintain the right of freedom of speech, of press and of assembly?

Or, are they going to wait until the number of victims of suppression increase to legions--as in Russia today?

Chicago, Nov. 30, 1902. EMMA GOLDMAN.

Questions on Goldman's Police Harassment Letter:
  1. What happened in Chicago that prompted Goldman to write this letter?

  2. What kind of picture of life in Czarist Russia in 1902 does Goldman portray in her account?

  3. What are the connections she draws between her treatment by the authorities in the United States with the suppression of free speech in Czarist Russia?

  4. What did Goldman predict as the consequences of continued suppression of free speech?

  5. What actions did she suggest as a remedy to the problems surrounding the issue of free speech in America? Why?

General Questions on This Exhibit:
  1. Which constitutional amendment guarantees the right of free speech? What does it say?

  2. Are there limits to free speech? Under what circumstances and why?

  3. In your opinion, is graffiti a form of free speech?

  4. What is your opinion about the constitutional right of musical groups, like 2 Live Crew, to express any opinions they want in their lyrics?

  5. What reception would Emma Goldman's ideas receive in your city council meetings today?

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