As the Great Depression strangled the country in 1932, demonstration marches were becoming common occurrences. In Dearborn, Mich., five protesters were killed in the spring during a hunger march, and in the early summer 15,000 World War I veterans descended on D.C. to demand bonuses promised by the government in what became known as the “bonus marches.”
And the year ended on a tumultuous note at the Capitol, where the news photographers in this picture were forced to don gas masks to cover a hunger march on Dec. 5, 1932. In his book “The Crisis of the Old Order,” historian Arthur M. Schlessinger Jr. recounted the scene as Congress convened for a lame-duck session on Dec. 5: “It met as if under siege; on the first day a double line of policemen, armed with tear gas and riot guns, blocked the Capitol steps. A new army of Communist hunger marchers had moved into Washington, twelve hundred strong, in greasy gray caps and torn sweaters, chanting ‘Feed the hungry, tax the rich.’” The protesters were herded into a detention “camp” along New York Avenue where they were forced to spend the night.
In the end, Schlessinger said, Congress decided even communists had rights and granted permission for them to protest. “Under the escort of heavily armed police, the threadbare army marched to Capitol Hill, where the Red Front Band bravely played the thin strains of the ‘Internationale,’” he wrote.