The Italian Community on Strike

Wolensky cover
It has been awhile since the last blogpost. We have been busy working on our other archaeology project which focuses on company town life in the towns of Lattimer and Pardeesville (http://lattimerarchaeology.wordpress.com/). This post is a book review of sorts. First of all we will introduce some recent scholarship written about the massacre, examining Anthracite Labor Wars: Tenancy, Italians, and Organized Crime in the Northern Coalfield of Northeast Pennsylvania, 1897-1959 by Robert P. Wolensky and William A. Hastie Sr.  The book is remarkable, describing the intimate relationships and conflicts that arose between many different groups in the region. It looks at local labor history through the often neglected or misunderstood lenses of organized crime, Italian immigration and the evolving system of contracting or leasing work in the region. The latter system contributed to many of the tensions that arose between workers and owners in the coal mines.

Importantly for us Wolensky and Hastie provide an important conceptual bridge between the two Lattimer projects. Specifically, the chapter on the Italian community on strike was informative and revelatory. We have spent the last three years conducting archaeological fieldwork at Italian shanty settlements in Lattimer and Pardeesville, examining the everyday life of workers and their families. We see the choice of expanding our project into company town life as a way of understanding the historical context of the massacre, particularly in regards to the lives of those who had much at stake in the strike. Wolensky and Hastie make this connection explicit in this chapter, extending the narrative of the events of the 1897 massacre to the Italian community.

GreeneIn 1968, Victor Greene wrote The Slavic Community on Strike: Immigrant Labor in Pennsylvania Labor, a very important text challenging narratives of labor radicalism in the region.  Before this point, the important roles that Eastern European workers and their families played in establishing unions and reforming the industry have been underplayed or even entirely disregarded. In fact, Greene, writing at the time, suggests that “far from weakening labor organization, the Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian mineworkers, their families, and their communities supported labor protest more enthusiastically than many other groups and were essential to the establishment of unionism permanently in the coal fields” (Greene 1968: xv).

The Lattimer Massacre is often associated with the marchers and martyrs that died on September 10, 1897. The group of 400 or so men that walked from Harwood, Pennsylvania that day were drawn from the predominantly Eastern European patch towns in the area to the south of Hazleton. It is for this reason that it is sometimes described as “A Slavic Massacre”. The massacre itself, however, occurred within the context of a broader protest made largely of new immigrant groups in the area, and largely supported by the earlier generations of immigrant labor. The immigrant strikers were united in their protest of the burdensome new labor tax on non-citizen labor (the Campbell Act) and the foul treatment received by a young laborer at the hands of Gomer Jones, a ruthless superintendent. More broadly, however, they protested a variety of living and working conditions that affected the miners and their families from every group including low wages, and the imposition of company stores and physicians.

The first protest began on August 19th, 1897, and it involved a coalition of workers including Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak, Irish and English. They were each represented in a committee made up of representatives of each group. Following a regional strike on the 21st of August a large rally was planned for the 3rd of September, 1897. This was to be the largest rally the town had ever seen. Apparently, this rally was led by a “’burly Italian’ who addressed the gathering in a loud and enthusiastic voice” (Wolensky and Hastie 2013: 207). The Wilkes Barre Times suggested that “… the burst of Italian eloquence tended to invigorate the crowd” (quoted in Wolensky and Hastie 2013: 207).  They marched to Jeansville, shutting down the colliery. According to reports at the time, the Italians “hooked a plank to the [breaker] whistle, leaving it blowing to announce the victory to the surrounding countryside”.  The strikers marched onwards, shutting down a total of four operations and swelling to the ranks of 10,000 miners and laborers that day. The resulting work stoppage clearly unsettled the coal operators. Perhaps more importantly, however, was the solidarity growing between the different ethnic groups in the region.  They quickly conspired to put as quick an end to the movement as possible, calling in the local Sheriff as well as the Coal and Iron police.

A drawing of an Italian miner from Pardeesville drawn by Jay Hambridge for the Century Magazine, April 1898

By the 9th of September most of the collieries in the south of the city of Hazleton had been shut down. On the 9th of September, a group of men from the Lattimer Colliery met with strikers in Harwood asking for the strikers to march to Lattimer. At the time the dominant new immigrant workforce in the town came predominantly from Italy, though our census research suggests it also contained Irish, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish laborers. Those with the most to gain from a strike, however, were likely to have been those at the bottom of the hierarchy. The results of the march have been described in great detail in this blog and in other places. What is interesting here is the way a new context changes the way the event can be understood. Wolensky and Hastie suggest that the Italians not only played a huge role in the unrest during the summer of 1897 but likely instigated the Lattimer march itself (Wolensky and Hastie 2013: 212).

In the summer of 2014 we will continue our excavations in Pardeesville. This time around, we plan to excavate at a company double house occupied by Slovak immigrants between 1910 and 1940. The Yanac family has kindly offered to let us excavate their backyard. In the course of this research we hope to learn about Eastern European community life in the company double houses of Pardeesville. We hope to learn about the inhabitants of these houses before the Eastern European immigrants moved into the region. The story of the massacre only gets richer and richer as we find new perspectives to change the way we look at this event.  As we delve into aspects of everyday life in the region throughout the following century we find ourselves returning again and again to that fateful day in 1897.

Greene. V. (1968) The Slavic Community on Strike. South Bend: Notre Dame Press.

Wolensky. R.P. and Hastie W. (2013) Anthracite Labor Wars: Tenancy, Italians and Organized Crime in the Northern Coalfield of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1895-1959. Easton: Canal History and Technology Press.

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Archaeology Project/ New Blog

A brief  project update.  Things are happening here at the Lattimer Archaeology Project.  Here are a couple of updates:

1) Archaeological Field School: We are planning the logistics for a summer archaeological dig in Lattimer this summer.  At the moment we are gathering a team for the project.  Details of the project can be found at our blog, which we will devote entirely to the archaeology project. Check it out!: http://lattimerarchaeology.wordpress.com/ Folks in the area, we would love to have visitors or volunteers.  We will be blogging our progress as we go, so check back during the summer.  The site we will be working on is going to be amazing…

2) We are working on a master list of names in our employee record cards. (read post below for info on this)  We will post this in GoogleDocs soon for open public access. University of Maryland students Katie Nyulassy and Katie Chen (see a post on their work here) are hard at work transcribing the information on the cards. We would love to have public input on the spelling of names and other information.  We would also love to fill in this database with personal and family stories.

4) University of Maryland student Jeremy Krones transcribed the community and life history interviews we collected this summer about Hazleton life, labor history and coal mining.  Jeremy’s post on his experience and research will go up on this blog soon.  We will post sections of these transcripts on this blog as well. We would love to conduct more family and community histories the next time we are in Hazleton.  Please contact us if you have a story to tell about Patchtown life, labor heritage and/or immigration.

3) We have also been gathering names and other information on immigration to Hazleton and Lattimer between 1850 and 1900.  We have a list of names and other information from Italy, Germany and Russia between these dates.  Many of the Russian ships have Eastern European names we suspect originate in Poland, Lithuania and other parts of Eastern Europe.  These will also be posted to GoogleDocs for public access.

Thanks for all of your comments on past posts.  We love to hear from Hazleton folks about their family and community histories. Hope to see you this summer.

Lattimer in International News

The Lattimer massacre was not (and arguably is not) just a regional or national issue.  Aside from the strike and shooting reaching all corners of the U.S. (newspapers carried the story in Utah, New Mexico, Louisiana, New York, the Dakotas, Texas, etc.), sentiment was stirred up in Europe as well.

Austria-Hungary in 1911, from U Texas Libraries

The strikers were nearly all from Southern and Eastern Europe.  Those who died were largely from what was then Austria-Hungary (see map, left).  Only one of the victims had applied for citizenship by the strike (Michael Cheslock); none were yet U.S. citizens.  As such, the Austro-Hungarian Empire took issue with the killing of its citizens, and demanded indemnity from the U.S.  Quite a bit of fear revolved around what would happen with international relations.

Following are a few newspaper accounts of Austria-Hungary’s demands, and reactions thereto:

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Source: The Enquirer-Sun, Columbus, GA. 16 September 1897, p.6:

Vienna’s View of Our Riots :Austria Will Demand Indemnity From Us for the Rioters Who Were Killed

London, Sept. 13 — A dispatch to the Daily Telegraph from Vienna says that much excitement has been caused there by the news of the shooting by deputy sheriffs at Lattimer, Pa., of a number of Austrian and Hungarian subjects.  Consular reports of the affair that have been received characterize the conduct of the deputies as unjust and unneccessary.  The foreign office will demand strict compensation from the United States.”

Source: The Sioux City Journal, Sioux City, Iowa. 14 October, 1897, p. 1

PROTEST BY AUSTRIA: Claims Rights of Her Subjects Were Violated in the Lattimer Affair

Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 13 — Gov.  Hastings has received a letter from Secretary Sherman, stating that the Austrian minister at Washington has filed a communication with the department of state, claiming that there was a violation of the rights of Austrian subjects in the firing on the mob at Lattimer, Pa., when a score of miners were killed.  Secretary Sherman requests the facts and status of affairs in relation to these cases.  Gov. Hastings has referred the communication to Sheriff Martin and Gen. Gobin, with the request that they enlighten Secretary Sherman as early as possible.” (this article was also carried by the Wilkes-Barre Times (Wilkes-Barre, PA) as “The Lattimer Shooting” and The Sun (Baltimore, MD) as “The Shooting at Lattimer”)

Source: The Wilkes-Barre Times, Wilkes-Barre, PA.  21 October, 1897

THE LATTIMER SHOOTING: Sheriff Martin’s Story of the Affair Prepared for Gov. Hastings (by Associated Press)

Harrisburg Oct 21 — Sheriff Martin of Luzerne county was in Harrisburg yesterday with his attorney Geo. S. Ferris, to confer with Governor Hastings, who was unavoidably absent.  The executive wrote to the sheriff recently asking for a statement of the shooting at Lattimer to be used by Secretary of State Sherman in making reply to the Austrian government, which has instructed the minister at Washington to get all the details of the affair.  The sheriff has prepared a statement giving his side of the story which will be submitted to the governor in confidence on his return from Philadelphia.  The statement in brief recites that the sheriff and his deputies were in the discharge of their duty as public officials when the shooting occurred.”

Source: The World-Herald, Omaha, NE. 20 March, 1899

NO QUARREL WITH AMERICA: Austria Will Have No Trouble With Us Over Lattimer Affair

London, March 19 — The Vienna correspondent of the Standard referring to the recent editorial allusions by the Politiasche Correspondez, to the Hazelton shooting and its announcement that the Austrian foreign minister intends to press the ‘just claims advanced in half of Austrian subjects,’ says, ‘I have reason to believe that the Austrian government has not the slightest intention to seek a quarrel with the United States.  The press however, is constantly accusing the government of neglecting its duty in the Hazleton affair, and the government will not let the matter drop until Count Goluchowski (the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister), gets an opportunity to explain to the delegations that the standpoint of the American government indicated by the latter note of February 4 is legally and morally incontrovertible, though the sheriff of Lattimer might have waited longer before giving the order to fire on the excited strikers.” (also carried by The Butte Weekly Miner (Butte, MT) as “The Hazleton Shooting”)

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA. 12 August, 1899, p. 8

There Was nothing to Arbitrate

The refusal of the United States Government to accede to the request of Austria-Hungary to submit to the arbitration of a claim for the payment of an indemnity on account of the killing of Hungarians in the memorable Lattimer riot is entirely justifiable, and it is indeed surprising tha the request should have been made.  The killing in question was the subject of judicial proceedings, the result of which was to vindicate its legality.

It will be recalled that the rioting occurred in connection with a strike of coal-miners.  In the course of that strike, and as a means of intimidating the employers, a number of men, among whom were the Hungarians on account of whose death the claims were made, had assembled and had begun to act in a threatening and disorderly manner.  Called upon by the Sheriff of the county to disperse, they refused to do so and they suffered as a consequence of their refusal.  The verdict of a jury confirmed the rightfulness of the Sheriff’s action and there is not the slightest basis upon which to found a claim against the United States.

There is no parallel between this case and that of the Italians who were taken from a New Orleans jail and lynched, and for whom this country did pay a compensation.  The Lattimer rioters had no one to blame but themselves, and as the facts are undisputed and undisputable, there is absolutely nothing to arbitrate.  The Austro-Hungarian Government could hardly have been serious in its request.”

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So – what do you think?  Did the Austro-Hungarian Government have a case?  The “facts” of the case are certainly disputable, although the Sheriff was acquitted.  Should the government have received payment?  Victims’ families?  Anyone?

Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries

I just picked up Vol. 16 of the 1911 Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office).  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s up on Google Books yet, but your local university library should be able to get a copy.

Anyway, the report comes from a 1907-1910 investigation by the U.S. Immigration Commission into immigration trends and statistics.  Volume 16: Immigrants in Industries looks in part at anthracite coal mining.  It looks at mining as an industry, and the industry in a representative community, “Community A” from the middle coal field (shown in red, below).

The Anthracite Fields of Pennsylvania (from Barendse (1981) Social Expectations and Perception: The Case of the Slavic Anthracite Workers. University Park: Penn State Press)

The more general overview focuses on nameless collieries from the upper and lower fields (orange and blue, respectively, right)  as cases with which to examine numbers of workers, working conditions, workers’ occupations and wages, literacy rates, home ownership trends, and perhaps most importantly, what it calls “race.”  Race is a concept applied to nearly every section of this report (in all volumes), equated by the Commission with an immigrant’s country of origin (e.g. Poland, Lithuania, etc.).  There was great concern over recent immigration at that time (largely from Southern and Eastern Europe), so the Commission examined just about all aspects of Industrial-era American life through a racial (i.e. ethnic or nationalistic) lens.  “White” people seem to have been native (i.e. American)-born people with native-born fathers.  Generally these were people of British, Irish, Welsh, and sometimes German descent.  Non-white people, in this report, are foreign-born people–“Polish, Ruthenian [Ukrainian?], Slovak” and so forth.  The term “negro” is used for African Americans, although they are rarely mentioned.

What the report tells about its concept of race and racial tension in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania says a whole lot about the conditions that existed at the time of the Lattimer massacre.  The victims were, of course, “non-white” and largely non-English speaking, while the Sheriff and deputies were all “white” English-speakers.  Lattimer was generally a sort of microcosm of the larger Immigrants in Industries story.  Unfortunately the immigration issues addressed by the Commission (below) were just fuel for the fire caused by hard work for low wages and other miseries that accompany coal mining.

So, I thought it might be interesting to share a few pieces of the Commission’s report here, to serve as a backdrop for the Lattimer massacre, and maybe a bit of a backdrop for today as well….

Source: U.S. Immigration Commission (1911) Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries. Vol. 16, part 19.  Presented by Mr. Dillingham. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

“The most remarkable process from a sociological view point which is occurring in Community A is the rapid displacement of the earlier by the more recent settlers of the community.

The displacement is taking place through the operation of two forces–the pull of industrial and social ambition and the push of racial friction.  Distaste for mine work since the immigrants entered it, as well as dissatisfaction with wages, is inducing the English-speaking miners to change their occupations, and is preventing them from allowing their children to enter the industry.  The prosperous miner educates his children for softer-handed work, and they have to move away from Community A to find it.  The well-to-do storekeeper and the professional man moves away to find a more suitable environment for his growing children.

A night-working immigrant shoemaker or thrifty saloon keeper busy close in between two ancient householders, and they, disturbed by the nocturnal hammering of the vociferous joviality, quickly place their property on sale and as quickly find foreign buyers, whereupon they leave the community” (pp. 661-2).

The inevitable result to the American workingman of indiscriminate immigration

"The inevitable result to the American workingman of indiscriminate immigration" (by Victor, from the Southern Labor Archives at GSU)

“The social and moral deterioration of the community through the infusion of a large element of foreign blood may be described under the heads of the two principal sources of its evil effects: (a) The conditions due directly to the peculiarities of the foreign body itself; and (b) those which arise from the reactions upon each other of two non-homogeneous social elements–the native and the alien classes–when brought into close association.

Among the effects under the first-named class may be enumerated the following:

  1. A lowering of the average intelligence, restraint, sensitivity, orderliness, and efficiency of the community through the greater deficiency of the immigrants in all of these respects.
  2. An increase of intemperance and the crime resulting from inebriety due to the drink habits of the immigrants.
  3. An increase of sexual immorality due to the excess of males over females. …
  4. A high infant mortality, due largely to the neglect and ignorance of hygiene and sanitary surroundings on the part of the immigrant mothers. …

Before discussing the effects due to the heterogeneity of the social elements, it may be well to mention the more striking characteristics which separate the recent immigrants from the natives and earlier settlers.  These may be roughly catalogued as follows:

(a) Differences of language, religious faith, and degree of literacy. (b) A lower standard of comfort and a less fastidious manner of living…. (c) A different standard of modesty…. (d) A different manner of observing Sunday…. (e) A greater possession of sheer physical strength and a greater willingness to accept employment requiring nothing but brawn. (f) A more habitual indulgence in intoxicating beverages with apparently less permanent physical injury.

The chief effects of a social and moral character arising from the friction and interactions between the native element and the large foreign body possessing the above peculiarities may be summarized as follows:

  1. A general loosening of the forces of social cohesion.  The inability, owing to the lingual and educational barriers, of understanding the other’s viewpoint prevents the development of sympathy and engenders a disintegrating hostility….
  2. A civic demoralization of the ruling class.  The venality of the immigrants overcomes the scruples of the politically ambitious and they succumb to the temptations of bribery.  This reacts upon the efficiency of the local government.  The more scrupulous citizens shrink from participation in municipal affairs, which are controlled largely by the worst element in the community.
  3. An enfeeblement of the power of public opinion through the weakness of the public press.  There is only one English daily in Community A….
  4. A general stimulation of the cupidity and avarice of the local business and professional men by the tempting prey of the ignorant foreigner.
  5. A growth in the number of saloons…to satisfy the immigrant appetite….
  6. A coarsening of the fiber of the native-born through contact with the immodesties of the immigrant” (pp. 671-2).

I would love to read your thoughts about how this informs your thoughts on the Lattimer massacre, and/or on immigration today!

– Kristin