A True Account of an Unlawful Assembly in Jail


[NOTE: The following is an account of a group of clergymen being jailed in Los Angeles, California, December 8, 1917 on charges of Unlawful Assembly. The group was organized by Floyd to protest World War I. This was a booklet he wrote and published about their time in jail. This is a reprint of the original booklet. Floyd was 31 at the time.]

By Floyd

December the eighth, nineteen seventeen.
High noon.
The weeping jurors.
They are gone.
They now weep in solitude.
They seen their duty.
They done it noble.
It was too bad, of course.
But it had to be done.
For the sake of the country.

The jurors.
The man with the open countenance.
The dear lady jurors.
Nine of them.
Samanthy with the misty specs.
The lady with the boo hoo eyes.
The kind-hearted lady.
The old lady.
All, overcome by the beauties of patriotism.
They had found us guilty.
Boo hoo!

But they looked so tender-hearted.
They smiled upon us.
They beamed.
Upon me.
I thought they were going to acquit us.
Boo hoo!

The prosecuting attorney.
The funny prosecuting attorney.
He had finished his funny sermon.
His militaristic exegisis of Holy Writ.
He ahd returned the borrowed Bible.
Borrowed from some local clergyman?
“Thank you, Dr. Blank, D.D.”
“Here is your Bible.”
“Here is your scourge of small cords.”
“Badly frayed out.”

His Honor, the Judge.
He had just finished the Big Speech.
It was a medieval masterpiece.
Here is part of it.
Read it and ponder:

“The religion of patriotism was not sufficiently considered by you three defendants, and yet it is this religion which gives to country its majesty, and to patriotism its sacredness and force. Yes, alliance in this war meant force, force meant war, war meant blood. But it was God’s force. When has a battle for humanity and liberty ever been won except by force?”

Dear reader, gird up your loins.
And read on.
If you can stand it:

“Duty to country is a duty of conscience, a duty to God. For country exists by natural divine right. It receives from God the authority needful for its life and work; its authority to command is divine. The Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles writes: ‘There is no power but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.'”

It is enough.

Six months and 1200 dollars fine for each of us.
Boo hoo.

Bail fixed at 2500 dollars each.
An unexpected raise.
Not anticipated by our bondsmen.
Where are they?
Not here! but speeding toward the Court.
No use! Court adjourns at noon — until Monday!
But wait! Clerk agrees to return at four o’clock.
Then he will meet our bondsmen.
Kind-hearted clerk.

Friends present furnish bail for Whitaker.
Then bail gives out.
Lucky Whitaker!
Meanwhile, Story and I, we must go to jail.
All right, come and get us.
Clang! clang! Here comes the patrol.
We are going to ride.
Good-by, mother!
Good-by, wife!
Good-by, babies!
Little Vivian and Oliver.
Here goes papa for a ride.

In we climb.
Seven harlots climb in after us.
Clang, clang, again! Clang-ety clang!
Here we go! Good-by, all!
Handkerchiefs wave.
Whitaker looks after us longingly.
He had asked permission to go with us.
Denied. Unlawful.
Unlucky Whitaker.
Whitaker, the man who was bailed out before he got in.

Another patriotic oration.
This time by a harlot.
Banle-ety, blank preachers, sizzle, sizzle!
Ought to be in first-line trenches.
Oration waxes hot, then filthy.
Reeks with filth of harlot’s vocabulary.
Harlot defends flat.
Patriotic harlot.

Too fast around that corner. Hang on!
Seats slippery.
Bang! against a harlot.
“Excuse me, lady.”

Arrived.
“Get out.”
In we go.
“Wait! Search these men.”
Small change, cough drops, laundry bill, quill toothpick, shoe button that couldn’t stand the strain.
No powder puffs or other dangerous weapons.
Slam! we are locked in.
We walk into the “tank” containing eight other human beings, who eye us curiously.

“Some swell guys,” they say.
“Will the religious guy hold a meeting?”
“Yes, boys, we will hold a meeting, but first we are hungry.”

Story’s father has sent us in some lunch.
Kind-hearted father.
Containing pie, pickles, ham sandwiches.
We spread it out on newspaper on board table.
All done up in a paper bag.
We sit on the table beside it.

Boys gather around and eye the swell lunch.
They have stew and rye bread twice a day.
Story and i hesitate.
I look at him slyly.
He is looking at me slyly also.
We force a smile.
We have not eaten, yet we are swallowing something in lumps.

We slip don off the table.
We walk to the far end of the tank.
“Go to it, boys, help yourselves.”

They need no second invitation.
Story and I seem to be taking cold.
We blow our noses.
Angels come.
Curtain.

“When ar we goin’ to have that meetin’?
“Right now, boys; unlawful assembly called to order.”
Audience sits on table with feet on bench.
One Mexican Revolutionist.
On opium peddler.
Three day-light burglars.
One man totally deaf, speaks nothing but French.
One blind man.
One drunk.
I permit boys to smoke during divine worship but explain that this is not my custom in my regular church services.

“Boys, let us open the meeting with that sweet seditious hymn: ‘Sweet Peace, the Gift of God;s Love;’ the last time I sang this hymn I was arrested.”
I begin it, but I do not sing it. I recite it.
I must get more nerve.

“Boys, let us now recite together the Twenty-third Psalm; but be careful: the last time I recited this Psalm I was mobbed by a crowd of soldiers who dragged us out and dispersed our meeting.”
“We are willing to be dispersed,” they cry.
Next we offer prayer.
Through an oversight on the part of the Los Angeles police, no mob appears during these religious exercise.
Speech on the Fellowship of Reconciliation: service, brotherhood, love, a square deal for all, and the abolition of war.

“Say, pal, you’ve got the right idea,” says Drunk.
“Hain’t that guy got a bean on him!” says Burglar.
Mexican makes fervent comments.
Wants to start revolution on the spot.

Time to sing.
Quartette organized.
“What songs do you know, boys?”
Silence.

“Any of you boys ever been to church?”
Yes, Day-light Burglar has.
Used to be at Reform School.
Was forced to go to church while there.
Remembers “Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”
Also remembers, “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.”
We sing the last named doxology.
Boys join in.
Amazing irony.

Other songs follow.
Crowd is tuning up.
“Throw out the Life Line.”
“When the Roll is Called up Yonder.”
Pretty fair music.

“Don’t sing so loud, boys; the Jailor might come in here and deport me.”
“I would just like to see him lay oa finger on you,” shouots Big Burly Burglar.
“All right, boys, go ahead.”
“Showers of Blessing.”
“Amen.”
Meeting closed.

“Hell!”
Says Dead drunk.
Whereupon theological discussion ensues.
Conclusion reached: every man makes his own hell.
Conclusion heartily endorsed by Drunk.
He had manufactured his own hell out of 2 pints of whiskey.
With Private Annex for his wife.

I talk with deaf Frenchman on my fingers.
Says he lost his hearing through the booming of big guns.
Big Guns Disseminating Democracy.
His eyesight almost destroyed by poison gas.
Poison Gas Disseminating Democracy; “do you understand, little children?”

And the Blind Man.
He was put in jail by a Nice Lady because there are no public toilets in Los Angeles.
Bad Blind Man.
Nice Lady.
Nice Town.

Some one comes to see us in jail.
We crawl into the Conversation Cage and through the closely woven screen we talk to him.
It is Whitaker.
Whitaker — the Man with the Big Soul.
Whitaker — the Uncompromising Idealist.
Whitaker — the Man who laughs at the Impossible.
Whitaker — we love you.
We love Greatly.
Greatly — with a Big G – Whitaker!

Three thirty P.M.

Bang, bang, bang!
Jailor pounds on iron bars with steel rod.
Call to dinner.
Animals pick up ears and file out of cell.
Down the iron steps we go.

Story takes Blind Man by the arm.
Story — the Man with the classic face.
Story — the Man with the Fires of Idealism inside.
Story — look out or you’ll fall down the stairs and break your neck!
Story — loved by all.
Story, who bayonetted — but that is another Story.

I take Drunk by the arm.
He thinks he is going to die.
Perhaps, after dinner.

Benches and rough board tables.
Now for the swill!
Tin dish in front of each man.
Pile of rye bread in center of table.
Here comes the Cook with a pail of Stew.
Each piggy gets a dipper-full, including myself.
Man next to me forks meat out of my dish with my consent.
I taste what remains.
I survive and taste again.
Lo, I am done!

I investigage quart pan in front of me.
Contains lazy, lukewarm liquid, greenish brown.
Some say it is coffee.
Some say it is dye.
Die it is, perhaps.
Room begins to whirl around.
Queer.

“Story, Hardin!” yells Jailor.
Bailed out.
We arise.
“Good-by, boys! Good luck to you all. Yes, we will send you in the tobacco and pie. Upon our honor we will.”

The man with the Big Key opens the Gate.
We pass out.
We are free — still free.
Slam! goes the Gate with the Big Iron Bars.
The Big Gate which is the Big Joke.
Story and I look at each other and smile.

Then we listen.
“What is that strange noise!”
The animals are rattling their dishes for more hooverized stew.
Made thin for the Animals.
So that the World may be made safe for — Nice People.

Good-by.

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