United Auto Workers

Fighting for a Voice for All

Battle of the Overpass

On the morning of May 26, 1937, organizers from the UAW came to the Rouge Plant simply to hand out leaflets about the union, among them Walter Reuther, Richard Frankensteen, and Richard Merriweather, . Unfortunately, the leaflets were late in arriving, and the photographers from the newspapers were growing impatient. While waiting, Reuther and Frankensteen began posing for pictures on the overpass to the factory. Some of Ford’s special security was watching, led by Harry Bennett. Because of the absence of any leaflets to be distributed, the organizers were ordered to leave, but Bennett’s men began attacking Reuther, Frankensteen, the other union organizers, as well as reporters before they had time to move. Several organizers were severely beaten, and all but one role of film was destroyed in the brawl. Frankensteen was kicked in the head and severely beaten by the thugs. Reuther was repeatedly beaten and thrown to the ground, eventually being thrown down the overpass steps by some of Bennett’s men. Merriweather’s back was broken. Fortunately, one reporter was able to hide film rolls and give the thugs blank rolls instead. These are the only surviving pictures of the beatings. While there was an inquiry into the incident by the National Labor Relations Board in July 1937, no arrests or charges were ever brought.

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Videos about Ford, the Rouge Factory, and Battle of the Overpass

Diego Rivera Rouge Factory Murals 

Harry Bennett and the Battle of the Overpass