In the United States, the massacre in 1922, which took place on the 21st and 22nd of June that year, is known as the largest loss of life due to any labor conflict. Until recently, it wasn’t even something that was acknowledged, either. That all changed though late in the first decade of this century, when a local radio host took it upon himself to honor someone who lost their life during that awful conflict over miners rights.
In 1922 miners were striking and, like many labor disputes, replacement miners had been called in. However, a team of strikebreakers were also called in, and that is when an intense battle took place. There was a shootout, there was bloodshed, and there was carnage. However, the true massacre happened shortly thereafter, when those individuals were marched directly through town, on a miles-long journey, and then lined up against a wire fence.
With those individuals having no place to go, they were told to run, and when they did they were sprayed with bullets. Some were shackled together and forced to crawl to safety, but none made it. They were tied up, lynched, murdered, and after all was said and done – those responsible didn’t even have to pay for their actions.
The individual that the radio host was celebrating was an individual that had served in World War I on behalf of the United States. After the war was over, the coal industry was booming here in the U.S. and that is when this strike, and massacre took place in Herrin, Illinois.
Bill Sizemore, who is a retired miner in the area pointed out that, “No one really mentioned the massacre. It was a black eye.” He went on to point out that, “The people of Herrin weren’t proud of it. They all felt like it was going to wash away like the river.”
For many though that is the most perplexing portion of this story. It wasn’t just hidden, like the mass graves, whcih actually had others buried over the top of those anonomous grave sites. It was forgotten. Very few members of the community today even realized that something as awful as that even happened in the town that houses just over 12,000 residents.
It wasn’t just a black eye, it was something that people felt like never happened. However, that’s all changed now. The town has added a memorial, and even gone through an archeological dig that has named some of the victims of the massacre. Interestingly though, not all of the recovery efforts have been positive.
In fact, some of the efforts have been downright challenged. The former mayor of the community pointed out that there was “no reason” for a dig, due to the fact that it would stir up more recently buried souls. However, the problem at that point was more along the lines of attempting to reconcile spaces in a cemetery which were sold, when there were already unmarked graves on that site.
While the situation as a whole will seem very complex to those who don’t live in the community, this is very much something that the community wants to deal with and address. Since the former mayor resigned, things have been moving forward – and the proper recognition has been placed, as historians and the community can deal with the tragedy, instead of pretending it didn’t happen.