“Bloody Monday” took place in a unique community that over the years has valued harmony. There are differences of opinion and feuds, but generally people in Hilo, with tsunamis and volcanic eruptions to worry about, get along with each other. “Bloody Monday,” also called the “Hilo Massacre,” temporarily broke that harmony.
In 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, labor discontent escalated over low pay and poor working conditions. The Hilo Longshoremen’s Association struck against the Inter-Island Steamship Navigation Co. On July 22, when Inter-Island sent the Waialeale from Honolulu to Hilo with passengers and cargo, some 250 strikers, supporters, and family members marched down Kuhio Road and peaceably sat down at the wharf.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Department had been armed with riot guns with fixed bayonets. Seeing the crowd, the police panicked and lobbed a tear gas canister into the gathering. In the ensuing melee the police gassed, hosed, shot, and bayoneted fifty-one of their fellow citizens. Newspaper photos showed the crowd fleeing from the police and even leaping into the water from the pier. Fortunately, there were no deaths. But the violence shocked people on both sides of the issue, many of whom were related to each other.
The strike was soon settled. The event to this day is vividly recalled, and its fiftieth anniversary was noted by a television documentary and the unveiling of a monument at the Hilo dock.
By Helen G. Chapin