William Covington Hall was a major organizer of the IWW in Texas and Louisiana.
William Covington Hall stands out in southern socialist and labor history as one of the paramount organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Texas and Louisiana. Writer, poet, labor organizer, orator, newspaper editor — Covington Hall is perhaps best remembered for his efforts to organize lumber workers in the East Texas and Western Louisiana piney woods in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
But for all his notoriety during those years, Covington Hall died in relative obscurity on February 21, 1952. For the longest time the location of his gravesite was unknown and unmarked[i]. It was time to resolve the oversight.
A biography of Covington Hall cannot be done in a few short paragraphs. Covami, as he called himself in his writings, was born in Woodville, Mississippi, on August 15, 1871, the son of a Presbyterian minister. His sense of justice for working people quickly developed and he became entrenched in the unionization efforts of the Texas and Louisiana lumber workers, to the extent that lumber industry once tried to have him killed.
Following his efforts to organize the IWW and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers in the South, he continued his efforts with the IWW unionization efforts in Oregon, and later became actively involved with the New Llano socialist colony near Leesville, Louisiana, and then later with the efforts of Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas.
His main written work was Labor Struggles in the Deep South, but his newspaper articles were extensive, especially in the pages of the Socialist Party of Texas paper, The Rebel, and his own newspapers, The Lumberjack and Voice of the People. His poetry also appeared in the pages of those papers, as well as in a variety of chapbooks.
The effort to track down his final resting place started with an Internet search.
The effort to track down the mysterious location of Covington Hall’s final resting place started in 2017 with a random Internet search, whereupon it was discovered, via Find-A-Grave[iii], that he was buried in the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. This was confirmed by obtaining a copy of his death certificate from the Louisiana Secretary of State.[iv] Unfortunately, Find-A-Grave did not provide a photo of the gravesite, which prompted a visit to the Metairie Cemetery to obtain an exact location of William Covington Hall’s burial location.
But, alas and alack, the location of the crypt provided by the Cemetery folks as the burial location for Covington Hall did not have any marker, inscription, or mention indicating that Covami was indeed interred there. There were indeed Halls in that crypt, including a William A. Hall who was presumably Covington’s father, but nothing else.
Covington Hall needed to be memorialized with a little bit more. The quest to get a marker installed for him began in earnest. An ad hoc email group of interested Wobblies began entertaining the best ideas.
There were initial issues to be resolved. Metairie Cemetery was approached with an inquiry as to the possibilities and requirements for installing a marker, but since Metairie was a private cemetery, the owners of the cemetery plot would have to be contacted for their approval for an addition to the crypt. No such current heir could be located — the ownership bloodline had faded away over the years; after all, Covington Hall’s burial in 1952 — over 65 years ago– had probably been the last internment in that particular crypt. Metairie Cemetery was tasked with the maintenance of monuments, but in now way were they permitted to alter the existing memorials.
After some further discussions on this, the General Manager of the Metairie Cemetery, Mr. Huey Campbell, came to the rescue: “I have met with our interment department and management team and we will approve a separate marker to be placed on the stairs of the Hall Family Tomb which will allow you to [memorialize] Mr. William Covington Hall. “[v]
The Covington Hall Ad Hoc Marker Committee was back in session. Text was approved for the marker, bids were solicited from various monument manufacturers, and an appeal was made through Go-Fund-Me to raise the necessary funds. On December 13, 2018, the manufacturing order was placed with Covington Monument Company in Covington, Louisiana. The marker was installed on April 25, 2019.
Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to the successful completion of this memorial project for Covington Hall.
[Steve Rossignol is a retired member of IBEW Local 520, Austin, Texas and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He serves as Archivist for the Socialist Party USA.]
[i] Email from Huey Campbell to Steve Rossignol, August 3, 2018
[iii] State of Louisiana Certificate of Death, Orleans Parish, p. 1134
[iv] “Burns Detectives Arrested,” The Rebel, Vol. 2, No. 79, January 11,1913, p. 1.
[v] See, for instance, Nick Lemann, “In Search of Covington Hall,” Harvard Crimson, October 23, 1975