The effects of the Great War at home provided interesting times in the years that immediately followed, and set up a memorable moment in Kansas history.
High wages prevailed during the war. After the war, however, efforts were made to reduce wages, and labor, for its part, sought to change working conditions. Among other things, this led to strikes in the railroad industry.
In Emporia, the editor of the Gazette, William Allen White, gave railroad workers a fair shake in what was written about them, which eliminated the violence that had taken place in some railroad towns. Across the state, striking workers asked businesses to place placards in their windows that said, “We are for the strikers 100 per cent.” Governor Henry J. Allen was offended by the signs, and believed he had the right to curtail their use. He ordered the signs removed.
Now White and Allen, who was also a Wichita newspaper editor, were friends. This episode put them on opposite sides, as White did not agree with Allen’s order, and threatened to put a sign in the window of his paper. According to White in his Autobiography, an exchange between them went like this:
Allen: “Bill, if you do that, I’ll have to arrest you.”
White: “Come on and arrest me and we’ll test this matter in the courts. I think your order restricts the liberty of utterance.”
White put the following sign in the window of the Gazette:
“So long as the strikers maintain peace and use peaceful means in this community, the Gazette is for them 50 percent, and every day which the strikers refrain from violence, we shall add 1 per cent approval.” White signed the placard. He was soon arrested.
In part because he White and Allen were friends, the matter generated national attention. White received letters of support and protest, including one from another friend that felt White was in the wrong. White’s response came in an editorial that quickly went across the nation. Entitled “To An Anxious Friend,” it was published in the Emporia Gazette on July 27, 1922. You can hear the editorial here:
The strike soon ended, and the state Attorney General decided not to prosecute. White objected, because he wanted the court to decide the legality of the issue, but it was to no avail.
For his trouble, White did received the Pulitzer Prize for best editorial of the year, and left behind a strong statement on freedom of speech.
And the friendship between White and Allen? It was never in danger, and lasted until White’s death in 1944.