The Herrin Massacre




Coal Miners

Marion Prison
Herrin Massacre
Giant City
Fort Massac

Date: June 21, 1922

:Location: Half-way between Marion and Herrin, IL, USA

People that died: 20

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Herrin Massacre


On April 1, 1922 the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) began a nationwide strike. W. J. Lester, the owner of the Southern Illinois Coal Company, operated a strip mine located about halfway between Herrin and Marion, Illinois. Lester complied with the strike at first. He had only recently opened the mine, and massive startup debts drove him to negotiate with the UMWA to allow his mine to remain open, providing no coal was shipped out. By June, Lester's miners had dug out approximately 60,000 tons of coal. Strike-driven shortages had raised coal prices, and Lester would make a $250,000 profit if he could sell his coal. He decided to bring in mine guards and 50 strikebreakers, known as scabs, recruited from employment agencies in Chicago. On June 16, 1922, Lester shipped out sixteen railroad cars filled with coal.


Political Negations:

The Illinois Attorney General and the Illinois National Guard attempted to convince Lester to stop shipping coal and to fire the strikebreakers. He refused to do so, perhaps not realizing the violence with which previous strikebreaking attempts had been met. Coal miners from throughout southern Illinois and northwestern Kentucky began to rally against Lester. Colonel Samuel Hunter of the Illinois National Guard repeatedly warned Lester that his mine could not be defended. He also advised the Williamson County, Illinois Sheriff, Melvin Thaxton, to deputize men and to deal with the situation. Thaxton was running for County Treasurer that year, and as a former miner he sympathized with the strikers. As a result, he did nothing to prevent the coming conflict.



Sheriff Thaxton had failed to meet Col. Hunter and Major Davis at his office at 6 a.m. as promised; he finally showed up at 8 a.m. By then Hunter and Davis had already heard rumors of the violence against the strikebreakers. When the three finally arrived at the mine, what remained of the operation was in flames, and they learned the mob had left three hours earlier. When they retraced the steps of the mob, they found the grisly evidence of the dead, dying, and wounded. Those that weren't dead were taken to Black Hospital. But 19 of the 50 strikebreakers died during the massacre. Two union miners had been shot and killed during the siege of the strip mine, bringing the total number of victims to 21. The dead strikebreakers were laid out in the Dillard Building in downtown Herrin, and most of the town turned out to look at them. Some gazed quietly, others cursed and spit on the bodies. 16 of the 19 strikebreakers killed in the action were later buried in the potter's field area of Herrin Cemetery. Thousands attended the funerals of the two union miners who died during the siege. The nation reacted to the massacre with disgust. One newspaper editorial said "Herrin, Illinois should be ostracized. Shut off from all communication with the outside world and the people there left to soak in the blood they have spilled." President Warren Harding called it a "shocking crime, barbarity, butchery, rot and madness." Others also compared the people of Herrin to the Germans in World War I.


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