Thursday, July 14, 2016

June 28, 1922: The Illinois Lynching.

Today we feature an article found in the Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, S. C.) dated June 28, 1922:

The Illinois Lynching.

"Some were lynched, some were burned when the mine was fired, others were beaten to death and the majority fell before the scores of bullets poured into them."

In fact, they were all "lynched," these non-union miners murdered in Herrin, Illinois, and the Associated Press dispatch would have been more accurate if it had said so. A mob of 5,000 men set upon other men, overpowered them and killed 40 or more of them. The members of the mob say that they were right in killing their "enemies." The members of a mob who kill a negro always defend their act, claiming merit for it.

The mob in Illinois burned the mine structure and with it burned men to death. Atrocities equal to that have been done lately in Texas and in Georgia. It is not less cruel to burn a white man than to burn a negro—the mob in Illinois burned white men.

In Illinois the mob butchered many victims after capturing them—when the non-union miners were in the power of the strikers.

Indeed, the tragedy in Herrin had every defining mark of a lynching. It differed from Southern lynchings only that no Southern lynching has ever had so many victims.

What does Representative Dyer think about it?

What is Representative Madden going to do about it? The lynching occurred in Mr. Madden's state—just as did the lynchings in East St. Louis and Springfield some years ago, when negroes were the victims.

That a victim is a worker and the mob is composed of strikers surely does not take the killing out of the definition of mob law, lynch law. Will the Dyer bill, if passed, put an end to affairs likt [sic] this in Herrin? If so, Representative Dyer has been provided with an argument in its favor more convincing and powerful than those furnished by Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and other Southern states.—The State.

An article on the mine massacre in Herrin, Illinois comes to us through the pages of The Washington Times (Washington, D. C.) dated June 23, 1922:



Mine Deaths Blamed on Operator Who Refused to Close Plant When Warned.

WEST FRANKFORT, Ill., June 23.—Two haggard, disheveled men, their clothing torn in tatters, who said they were survivors of the massacre of captives taken from the Southern Illinois Coal Company's mine at Herrin, were escorted out of town today by a volunteer posse.

The two men came into town on a passenger train. No sooner had they descended than they were surrounded by a crowd, which, after asking a few questions, marched them north along the railroad tracks to this city's outskirts and told them to get out. When last seen the two fugitives were trudging in the direction of Benton.


CINCINNATI, June 23.—Denial of any responsibility for the massacre of non-union coal miners at Herrin, Ill., was made here today by John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, for the miners' union. Lewis' statement declared that he did not encourage or condone lawlessness.


International News Service.

HERRIN, Ills., June 23.—"Twenty-five scabs are dead, nine are in the hospitals, and the mine is closed. The striking miners' prayer is answered."

These words, crudely lettered on a sign, are conspicuously posted in a barber shop on the main street a short distance from the morgue that houses most of the victims of the mine war that prevailed late Wednesday and throughout most of Thursday. It apparently typifeis [sic] the feeling prevalent in this district.

No Fear of Punishment.

There is no apparent apprehension that a day of punishment will come to those responsible for the outbreak of violence in which twenty are known to have been killed and many injured.

The disposition here today seems to be to regard the affair as a closed incident. Outside of the crowds that are pouring in to gaze and sneer upon the victims in the morgues, everything is quiet.

The known victims of the warfare number twenty killed and eighteen seriously wounded. Many are still unaccounted for and the dead may reach fifty.

Of these known to have been killed two were striking miners and eighteen were workers at the mine of the Southern Illinois Coal Company, where the outbreak centered. The injured list included but three union men.

Seventeen Bodies in the Morgue.

Seventeen bodies are in the morgue at Herrin. The body of Superintendent McDowell has been taken to Marion. 

The injured list is made up of three injured guards at Carbondale, and fourteen injured miners and mine workers in the hospital at Herrin.

Out of fifty-two men who left the mine, eighteen remain unaccounted for. Six guards who escaped from an ambushed motortruck are still missing.

Reports continues to come in today of dead bodies lying in fields and woods through which the attacking forces marched their victims after the surrender at the mine. Officials were inclined to doubt the authenticity of these reports, although it was admitted that the casualty list probably would be increased by the finding of additional bodies or the death of some of the more seriously injured.

The property loss will amount to hundred of thousands of dollars. Everything about the mine that could be destroyed was wiped out by dynamite or fire.

The wounded in hospitals told of acts of barbarism and their stories find apparent confirmation in the condition of the bodies of the dead.

The outbreak has set a new mark for lawlessness in Williamson county, which for twenty years has been known as "bloody Williamson."

Guards Blamed For Trouble.

The question of responsibility for the riot probably will not be settled until some outside investigating body gets into the district.

Union officials put the blame upon the officials of the Southern Illinois Coal Company for trying to operate with strike breakers in a 100 percent union territory and for hiring guards that invited trouble. They claim the trouble was started when a miner by the name of Guy Hudgins was shot by a guard while on his way to Herrin on a business trip.

Their claims are party borne out by Sheriff Melvin Thaxton, who tells of a conference with W. J. Lester, owner of the mine; Delos L. Duty, State's attorney; C. K. McDowell, and Col. Samuel N. Hunter, of the Illinois national guard, in which he urged that the mine be shut down. He declares Lester stated that he bought and equipped the mine for the purpose of mining coal and that he proposed to do it.

Colonel Hunter, who arrived in Marion Sunday to look over the situation as a representative of Adjutant General Black, of the Illinois national guard, said that he kept in constant touch with the sheriff and was advised by the sheriff that he had the situation well in hand.

Urged Owner to Close Mine.

On Sunday, Colonel Hunter said, he was advised of possible trouble in the districts around Herrin and Marion. He notified the State's attorney and the sheriff to arrange a conference with all sides represented. It was at this conference that he urged Lester to shut down the mine. He regarded it as a menace to the community to attempt to operate it under existing conditions.

Monday and Tuesday, Colonel Hunter said, he spent the time investigating and was assured by the sheriff that the situation was well under control.

On Wednesday he was notified that a mob of fifty men had raided the Herrin Supply Company, taking six guns, eight rifles, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. Later the Moseley store was raided, but the ammunition and guns had been removed. An attempt was made to obtain guns and ammunition from the local chapter of the American Legion but they had been removed.

At 2 o'clock Wednesday afternoon Colonel Hunter said he was notified that a mob of 600 had assembled at the cemetery near Herrin. Colonel Hunter said he notified the sheriff's office and deputy told him the sheriff had gone to the boundary line of the county near Carbondale to investigate the reported shooting of guards on a truck bound for the mine. The deputy informed him, Colonel Hunter said, that he was the only man on duty at the sheriff's office.

Asked For Troops.

A short time later Colonel Hunter said he was notified by Superintendent McDowell, of the mine, that the men were starting to march on the mine. He said that firing had begun and asked for troops. Colonel Hunter told him he had no authority to call out troops without request from the civil authorities.

About 3:50 o'clock Wednesday afternoon McDowell again called Colonel Hunter and renewed his request for troops. Colonel Hunter again said he could not call out soldiers and McDowell asked what he could do.

"I suggested a flag of truce," Colonel Hunter said. "And asked him to see if further trouble could not be averted. I asked him to withdraw the men and arrange with the miners to let his mine lie idle. He said he would if I would get in touch with union officials and ask them also to run up a flag of truce. truce. [sic]

At 5:30 p. m. I got Fox Hughes, vice president of the United Mine Workers, on the telephone and advised him of what McDowell had asked and he agreed to do it. Hughes said he and Secretary Davis would go to the mine under a flag of truce and endeavor to call off their men. I them called McDowell and told him the union officials had agreed to his terms. He said firing had ceased."

Colonel Hunter said he later learned that Hughes had gone to the mine and that the shooting ceased until dawn of Thursday.

According to survivors, they were gunned down after surrendering. I agree with the editorial, the riot at Herrin does indeed appear to be a lynching. I don't know if it was the largest lynching because many of the race riots never give final totals and it is hard to know who is dead and who was run out of town. This riot does resemble the race riots quite a bit and those were recognized as lynchings.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder. 

1 comment:

  1. My father-in-law worked in that mine and lived in Du Quoin during those years. When I married into the family I remember bringing up the subject of blacks, discrimination, etc. At dinner one night. It became obvious quickly that subject would not be discussed. I tried to talk to my husband in private, but that didn't work either. After reading this article, it all makes sense after all these years since 1957....