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Lattimer Massacre Historical Marker
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Name:
Lattimer Massacre

Region:
Poconos / Endless Mountains

County:
Luzerne

Marker Location:
Off SR 3028, just East of Lattimer Crossroads

Dedication Date:
October 10, 1972

Behind the Marker

Houses along a street in Lattimer
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Children on a dirt road in Lattimer, PA, fall, 1897.
After close to two decades of comparative quiet, labor tensions in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal fields were again heating up. In the summer of 1897, the Hazelton Evening Standard in Luzerne County offered coal operators a blunt editorial warning: "The day of the slave driver is past and the once ignorant foreigner will no longer tolerate it."

Anthracite country had always drawn immigrants. By the 1890s, the coal fields were heavily populated by southern and eastern Europeans, who had come in hopes of claiming some portion of the American Dream. Pennsylvanians exhibited mixed feelings about these new arrivals. Newspapers celebrated the magnetic power of the state's industrial boom, but nativism, or anti-immigrant sentiment, was widespread against "foreigners" who refused to accept passively the low wages, dangerous work, and miserable living arrangements offered them by their employers.
Column of Striking Miners Marching to Lattimer, Pennsylvania, September 10, 1897,
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Mine workers marching to their slaughter outside of Lattimer, PA, September...


In the summer of 1897, a wave of spontaneous protests, organized by foreign-born workers, rippled through area mines. On the afternoon of September 10, some 400 immigrant miners, most of them eastern Europeans, raised an American flag and marched from Harwood towards the tiny patch town of Lattimer, where they hoped to convince Italian miners there to join the strike. On the outskirts of town they were met by Luzerne County Sheriff James L. Martin and 150 recently deputized Coal and Iron Police.

Called back from an Atlantic City vacation by the coal operators to end the strike, Martin had recently declared a state of civil disorder in order to deputize his posse, and then armed them with new Winchester rifles, metal piercing shells, and buckshot. As the marchers approached Harwood, Martin ordered them to disperse and attempted to grab their American flag. A scuffle ensued, someone yelled "Shoot the sons of bitches," and the deputies opened fire, killing nineteen unarmed miners and wounding thirty-two others.
Image of tents and soldiers
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Troop encampment at Lattimer, PA, September 1897.


Word of the Lattimer "massacre" spread quickly through the coal mining region, and across the country. The next day marker Governor Daniel Hastings sent a brigade of 2,500 state militia to control the expected reprisals. Funerals of the slain marchers drew crowds of up to 8,000 people, and newspapers expressed shock and outrage at the "butchery" and "carnage." The New York Tribune declared, "Strikers March to Death," and the headline in Pittsburgh's Amerikánsko-Slovenské noviny read, "Massacre of Slavs - In the Freest Country under the Sun - People Are Shot at like Dogs." Another paper noted that "if the strikers in Hazelton region were of the English-speaking class there would have been no bloodshed."
Three adult miners and one young lad pose for a picture with a policeman.
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Coal and Iron policeman, on right, with coal miners, circa 1890.


In February 1898, Sheriff Martin and his deputies were tried and then acquitted for murder at the Luzerne County Court House in Wilkes-Barre. Despite the national outrage and calls for reform, the state legislature placed no restrictions on the coal operators' use of the private police it had created by the Coal and Iron Police Act of 1868. The massacre did, however, create a new sense of unity among the immigrant miners of anthracite coal fields. In four months, more than 15,000 miners joined the United Mine Workers of America, which under the leadership of its dynamic young leader John Mitchell would take on the coal operators and force the federal government to arbitrate their grievances in the great markeranthracite coal strike of 1902.
 
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