Who was Rev. Bradford?
"The Forgotten Man's Hour"
Father Charles Coughlin
The Ford Hunger March
The River Rouge Plant
African Americans and the Success of the CIO
Lewis Bradford
Harry Bennett
The Battle of the Overpass
Layoffs and Intimidation
Muriel Lester
Lewis is Attacked
Lewis Dies
Locating the Autopsy
A City Mourns
Who Knew?
UAW Wins at Ford


The Battle of the Overpass

In April, 1937, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Wagner Act, guaranteeing workers the rights to organize a union. Walter Reuther and other organizers saw their chance, and Ford would not be able to stop them. On May 26, 1937, they assembled a hundred leafletters, and invited over a hundred clergy, press and politicians, "So there won't be any trouble."

However, over 400 Ford Servicemen under Harry Bennett appeared as the leafleting began and proceeded to viciously beat the organizers, both men and women. One minister noted that the Dearborn police looked on as one woman was being beaten, and made no attempt to stop the carnage. Katherine "Bebe" Gelles, head of the Local 174 auxiliary, traded punches with a goon. The thugs went too far, commentators said. At least one organizer - JJ Kennedy - died of his wounds. Tony Marinovich suffered a fractured skull which he never fully recovered from. But the biggest mistake made by the company was beating up the press, including photographers from the Detroit News. Most of the film was seized by the thugs, but one photographer got away. Walter Reuther and Dick Frankensteen had their bloody faces broadcast around the world. The photographs told the story of what came to be called the Battle of the Overpass. Time's coverage was particularly graphic, and in response Ford withdrew all ads from Time, Life and Fortune for the next 70 weeks.

Clip from "Battle of the Overpass", soloist: Steve Jones.

WJ Cameron, Henry Ford's assistant, reported on his Sunday radio broadcast that it was merely a case of Ford against the "Reds," and that this was no time to be "timid."

The Battle of the Overpass took its toll on Edsel - the relationship of Henry and his son Edsel never recovered. The organizers that were being beaten and murdered were intellectuals, idealists - the same sort of folks Edsel socialized with. Clara Ford sided with Edsel, but it was clear Henry was firm in his decision - Bennett, and no one else, would rule on all matters relating to labor at the Ford Motor Company.

Clip from "Shake Hands with the Devil", soloist: D. Yarrow Halstead.

Clara Ford had mutual friends with the Bradfords in Dr. Sladen, the head of the Henry Ford Hospital, and personal physician to the Ford family. In June, a month after the Battle of the Overpass, the Bradford's son Curtis graduated with a PhD from Yale University. The Bradfords were unable to get to New Haven, but Dr. Sladen attended and wrote them a letter, "The accomplishment that he has completed is worthy of the greatest praise, and I tried my best to represent the family in the amount of noise I made when his diploma was awarded." (Letter from Dr. Frank J. Sladen, Physician-in-Chief at the Henry Ford Hospital, to Mrs. Lewis Bradford, July 8, 1937).

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