Remembering Lattimer by Paul A. Shackel

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Remembering Lattimer
Labor, Migration, and Race in Pennsylvania Anthracite Country
by Paul A. Shackel
University of Illinois Press, 176 pp., paper $28

Amid significant industrial growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States actively pursued workers outside the country. From the 1850s to the 1920s people from across the world flooded American industrial areas, redefining our ethnic composition. Each successive group faced challenges including ostracism from more established groups, housing and job discrimination, and often very dangerous working conditions.

In Remembering Lattimer, University of Maryland archaeologist Paul Shackel recounts events in the southern Luzerne County anthracite fields leading to the September 10, 1897, massacre of 19 mostly ethnic Eastern Europeans who had been marching peacefully for better pay and working conditions. The book is not simply a historical account of the killing of the striking miners by an overzealous, unsympathetic sheriff’s posse and their ultimate acquittal, but a study on how these events have been collectively processed, written about, and commemorated in American culture over the course of a century and how they relate to the adversity faced by new immigrant groups in more recent years.

Although the events of Lattimer had an immediate impact on union membership, leading to successful labor actions in 1900 and 1902, the massacre itself was relegated to footnotes in labor history and our collective memory over the next 75 years. Attempts to memorialize those killed floundered for a decade after the massacre before being abandoned altogether, until a stone memorial and two state historical markers were erected after 1971. Although commemorative events increased through the years, leading to a centennial program and conference in 1997, Shackel recounts how some of the very descendants of those killed in the 19th century had a derisive reaction to new Hispanic immigrants by seeking passage of Hazleton’s restrictive Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006. In this book, Shackel maintains that Lattimer was an overt and violent reaction to immigration with sentiments still reverberating today.

Bode Morin
Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum