July 29, 1899: “Newsboy Strike Leaders”

Newsboy Strike Leaders

Discredited Kid Blink and His Many Rivals.

How Leadership is Maintained—The Profit In It—An Election—Little Fisher’s System—Young Monix—Faith of the Rank and File.

There is no “recognized leader” of the newsboys’ strike for more than a day at a time, for the reason that the strikers have no organization whatever, but there are many claimants, right to the honor being founded chiefly upon a “big mout'” and its consequent “newspaper note-riety.” The “newsboys’ union” is a mercenary invention; a meeting of the union is a gathering of half-a-dozen lads on a street corner or in a doorway when the police are not around, and the selection of the strongest of them all for President, on the strength of which subscriptions are solicited. The boys who have become known—Yaller Simons, Kid Blink, Little Fisher, Young Monix, and others—are those upon whom the reporters first chanced when the strike was declared on, and who thereupon asserted leadership and maintained it to the top of their strength and cunning. They are boys of some comparative strength of character; and they were followed implicitly by the rank and file, until dissension resulted in contrary orders. They are all at odds now, and most of them have suffered some loss of reputation with their fellows.

At the first what Kid Blink said “went—that is to say, was accepted—from Harlem to the Battery, though previously the Kid’s acquaintance had not extended much beyond City Hall Park and Newspaper Row; the newspapers had called him leader, and every paragraph of strike news in every newspaper was read by every boy who was old enough to spell out words. Soon interviews with Yaller Simons, Morris Cohen, Young Monix, and others began to appear, and puffed them up so that they, too, claimed leadership. At that time the boys who carry the papers up town on the elevated trains to the distributing points took conflicting directions, and rival parties made their way to the newspaper offices with “de on’y straight” information to sell, so that there was confusion and weakened confidence the city over; and allegations and counter allegations and blows on Newspaper Row, disputes over contributions to the cause—”seen wit’ me own eyes”—and the disappearance of them in the close pockets of the recipients, gave rise to much scandal; half a dozen characters were blackened in a day, but notwithstanding all, the strike is loudly proclaimed “on,” though it appears to be on the verge of collapse; for most of the leaders there is profit in it, and for the rank and file there is a fight—a glorious and important occupation.

“The “statements” issued by the leaders were taken to the newspaper offices, written in unformed hands, on scraps of paper. Most were pure invention and followed closely newspaper models. Little Fisher wrote his in a red-covered memorandum book—dirty and full of scribbling—and dictated them in an important voice; he issued more than any one else, and once he put out one on a great sheet of wrapping paper, with the demand that it be printed “jes’ as I got it down.” Some of the statements were in the dialect as the newspaper had printed it—a careful imitation—in the belief that it was much more interesting than plain speech. Little Fisher wrote “de” for “the” and “tink” for “think” and when he was taxed with knowning better, admitted that he did, but said, with a wink: “That’s all right. Sure let ‘er go like w’at I writ it.”

Young Monix has more substantial influence in Frankfort Street than any other; his real name is Sam Goldkranz, he is nineteen years old, and he came from Russia years ago. He has been a newsboy since he was seven years old, and is now a “speculator”—a wholesale dealer, who also buys unsold copies of the papers, which are not returnable save on certain conditions, which he, by buying in large quantities, can fulfill. He “knocks out” (makes) from $15 to $20 a week in normal times, and last week he cleared $60, through a certain profitable arrangement. He says he has no money in the bank, but knows a newsboy friend, Toppy, who has $7,000. His stand is in front of the World building, and here he can be found every day, a stocky young fellow with serious, obstinate face, dressed in old clothes with his shirt open at the front. His eye never wanders far from his business and he is called one of the “squarest” dealers on the street.

Kid Blink is a dark, hang-dog fellow of seventeen years, who has given up business while the strike lasts. The pupil of one of his shifty eyes is white, whence, probably, his nickname. Three weeks ago he was in tatters; today he wears bran-new clothes, and suffers ridicule and suspicion in consequence. Little Fisher, who is half his size, took him by the heels on the first day and made a striker of him, and then used his sudden prominence to compass his own ends. When the Kid was accused of treason, he lost his influence, and he has been whining about his achievements ever since. Young Monix says “‘e ain’t wort de button off me shirt.”

Morris Cohen and Yaller Simons are a pair, and claim to be head and front of the “Newsboys’ Union.” The latter has hardly a word to say for himself; he is nearly a man, and poses as the union’s “President.” Cohen is an overgrown fellow, who speaks in the dialect. “Don’t ye t’ink nuffin’ a w’at Kid Blink shoots out ‘is mout’,” he says. “We’s leadin’ dis strike, and’ we don’t do no dirt. I’m de Treasurer an Yaller’s de President, an’ we keep de strike on till we win. Say, we gota git money fer de parade. Kin ye gimme a little somet’in?” These boys never stray from City Hall Park in business house, and they both have profitable stands.

Little Fisher is the smallest leader; he is of the racetrack division, a shrewd under-sizaed, big voiced lad, with a glib tongue. It is his duty to “keep de kids in line.” When he is not writing statements, or looking after “de kids,” he is playing “craps” he says. He is not old enough to hold the reins himself, and found Kid Blink a convenient instrument with which to carry out his ideas. The strike is pure fun for him, but he took is seriously when the report of Blink’s desertion went round. He found another leader, however, in a muscular Jew whom he tried to “make” by putting his name in the statements and so getting it in the papers. Fisher tries to keep his hands clean and “turn out” good “copy.” Including “crap shootin’,” he has no other occupation of importance nowadays. One way or another, he has an influential part in directing the course of events.

There are leaders in every locality and leaders of every gang. A good stand, age, a sharp tongue, or physical strength entitles a newsboy to respect, and he commands it only if he can. The little leaders are doing their best to keep up the strike, and are chagrined by the quarrels of the prominent boys down town, among whom various corrupting influences are at work. It is a hard thing for them to resist the temptations offered to “keep on” or “call off” the strike and the rank and file have sharp eyes for signs of extraordinary interest either way. The influence of any one boy does not extend far if he is now with the popular cause, and if the strongest of all were bribed to declare the strike off, that would not be the only reason for its failure.g

Boys who sell the evening Journal and World for the publishers are now paid only $1 a day, a reduction of half. Young Monix said this morning that the strikers did not object to this arrangement, so long as the boys did not pay for the papers. No terms appear to have been reached. A mass-meeting, set for to-morrow night, is to be attended by newsdealers and strikers alike, for the purpose of selecting a committee and formulating a plan of action.

The Society to Aid Street Children, formed at a meeting on Tuesday evening last at the Broadway Central Hotel, and now working under favorable auspices, sent telegraphic messages yesterday to the Evening Journal and the Evening World, offering, in pursuance of the society’s general plan concerning the welfare of children selling on the streets, to appoint a special committee for the purpose of arbitration with the newsboys. Judge Martin T. McMahon of the Court of General Sessions, Judge John Hayes of the Special Sessions, and City Magistrates Crane, Meade, and Pool have expressed sympathy with the society’s aims.

Source: “Newsboy Strike Leaders.” Evening Post, 29 July 1899, p. 10.