- Remembering Lattimer: Labor, Migration, and Race in Pennsylvania Anthracite Country by Paul A. Shackel
On the afternoon of September 10, 1897, near the small anthracite patch town of Lattimer, one of the worst labor massacres in American history took place. About 450 striking miners, peacefully marching to call fellow workers out on strike with them, were fired on by a posse of some 150 deputies and mine guards under the command of Luzerne County sherriff James F. Martin. The initial fusillade and subsequent fire from Martin’s forces left nineteen dead and nearly forty wounded, all of them eastern European immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and other lands.
University of Maryland industrial archaeologist Paul A. Shackel brings this largely forgotten event to life by connecting the Lattimer massacre of immigrant coal miners to the anti-immigrant politics of the present, which, ironically, have been particularly pronounced in the nearby town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Shackel, the author of dozens of books and articles, including The Archaeology of American Labor and Working Class Life (University of Florida Press, 2011), has written a book that is at once a labor history, a study in public history and memory, a forensic archaeology, a contemporary sociology, and a plea for intercultural understanding.
Shackel first situates the Lattimer massacre within the development of the late nineteenth-century anthracite industry and the struggle of “new immigrant” coal miners—at first dismissed even by the union, the United Mine Workers (UMW)—to defend their most basic interests. He then presents a detailed study [End Page 120] of the massacre itself, followed by the trial, during which the legal defense for Martin and his deputies deployed anti-immigrant tropes to secure acquittal.
Shackel then studies the history and memory of Lattimer. The event was kept alive in oral traditions, he shows, but it was largely forgotten—at least in a public sense—until the early 1970s, when UMW officials, Catholic clergy, and local politicians began to invoke its memory, and contentious efforts were made to memorialize the massacre. This discussion is followed by a chapter detailing the archaeological study he carried out, which corroborates the overwhelming historical evidence from the time that Martin and his posse carried out the massacre.
Shackel then turns to the present. Today the immediate area’s leading town is Hazleton, whose former mayor (2000–2010) and US congressman (2011–19), Lou Barletta, made a national name for himself by pushing forward a local ordinance to block what he claimed was a tidal wave of illegal immigration to the depressed coal town. Hazleton, whose population is now roughly half Latino, once again found itself at the center of the immigration debate—as it had one hundred years earlier, at the time of the massacre. Shackel draws out these connections.
Shackel’s book, part of the University of Illinois Press series “The Working Class in American History,” is now the leading scholarly study of the Lattimer massacre. But it is more than that. Written in direct language, it will be of interest not only to scholars but also to a general readership and to teachers interested in helping students draw connections between past and present.