Science & Technology



Remembering the 1932 Ford Hunger March: Detroit park honors labor and environmental history

Paul Draus, University of Michigan-Dearborn, The Conversation on

Published in Science & Technology News

Others soon joined them: Black and white, men and women, immigrants and American-born. They united to deliver a list of 14 demands to the auto tycoon Henry Ford, whose $5 daily wage for his workers was once considered revolutionary.

Among the marchers’ demands: jobs for laid-off workers, a seven-hour workday without a pay reduction, two 15-minute rest periods a day, an end to discrimination against Black workers and the right to organize.

This crowd of several thousand marched up the road on one of the coldest days of winter. They were greeted at the Dearborn border with clouds of tear gas, jets of cold water and a shower of bullets.

It was then that the Ford Hunger March became the Ford Massacre.

Beth Tompkins Bates, in her book “The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford,” wrote that “The response of the Ford Motor Company on that day shot holes in the myth that Ford cared about his workers, that he was different from other businessmen.”

At the end of the day, four marchers lay dead, while many others were injured and hospitalized. A fifth would die months later of his wounds.


More than 30,000 people showed up for the dead marchers’ funerals. The violent reactions of Ford security and Dearborn police during the march were widely condemned.

In an effort to address the stain on its public image, the Ford family first commissioned then expanded a major work by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera that was to become the centerpiece of the Detroit Institute of Arts, known as the Detroit Industry Mural. Rivera, a known communist, depicted both ruthless efficiency and the racialized inequality of the industrial process.

Ford’s battle against unions was ultimately a failure. Five years after the Hunger March, the so-called “Battle of the Overpass” led to the organization of the Rouge plant by the United Auto Workers.

The Ford Hunger March, long forgotten by many, is now acknowledged as an important catalyst in the growth of the union movement.


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