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Here’s some background on the Lattimer massacre:
The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company laid off it’s workers at the company’s strip mines, cut off pay and increased the fees for workers living in the area’s company towns. In solidarity, hundreds of mine workers in eastern Pennsylvania went on strike in mid-August, 1897. PA was the coal capital of the world at the time, so a strike like this was potentially crippling.
As the strike grew and grew, the United Mine Workers began to call for an 15% wage increase. This demand helped bring many of the Slavic immigrants in Pennsylvania into the UMW. The strike’s first wave ended on August 23rd, and the second wave ended on the 28th.
However, when the workers returned to the mines, only some of the workers received the 15% wage increase, and many of the benefits the managers agreed to were never put in place. As a result, a second, larger strike began – it swelled to 10,000 by September 8th.
With mines shutting down all over the region, the mine owner’s found themselves unable to deal with the magnitude of the strikes with their private police forces. The owners turned to local law enforcement, and Sheriff James T. Martin was happy to help put the strikes to an end. He rounded up about 100 English and Irish immigrants to prevent any strikes in his county.
On September 10th, 300 to 400 unarmed UMW members began to march to Lattimer, Pennsylvania, to support the UMW chapter in the still-open Lattimer mine. On the way, Martin ordered the strikers to disperse, but they continued to march. When they arrived at Lattimer at 3:45 PM, the Martin and 150 armed deputies were waiting for them.
Martin ordered the marchers to disperse, and attempted to grab the American flag seen in the picture out of the hands of the lead marcher. A dust-up occured, and the 150 deputies began to fire into the crowd of marchers.
At least 19 miners were killed, with anywhere from 17 to 49 other miners wounded. Investigations found that most of the 19 killed were shot multiple times in the back. As news of the massacre spread, the communities of NE PA began to get angry and the National Guard was called in.
Martin and 73 deputies were arrested and put on trial. The trial further divided a split community, with the mostly-Slavic population holding massive fundraisers to support the families of the murdered miners and pay the lawyers. The English and Irish sects of the community tended to lean towards Martin’s actions being justified.
The trial ran from February 12th to March 10th, 1898. The sheriff and his men were acquitted, thanks to Martin’s lawyers playing up the danger of the Slavic miners, alleging that the miners were “invaders from the Steppes of Hungary.” The massacre made national news, and the membership of the UMW began to swell, and, thanks to the addition of thousands of miners, the union won better wages and working conditions in a later strike in 1902.
The Slavic community was greatly hurt by the Sheriff’s acquittal, and fights over the site of the monument dragged into the 20th century. One Polish newspaper, published in Scranton, memorialized the murdered miners in a rephrasing of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“May their death not be in vain, may they become the patron saints of the working people in America.”
I lost many ancestors in mining accidents. My family lives and worked in Shamokin during the crack down by mine and railroad bosses with Pinkerton help.