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100 Years Later: The Herrin Massacre

by Aaron Price | Victims are buried in the current Herrin City Cemetery (Williamson County Historical Society)
by Aaron Price | Victims are buried in the current Herrin City Cemetery (Williamson County Historical Society)

6/22/2022 | 1:51 a.m.

HERRIN, ILLINOIS (WFCN) - One hundred years ago today, just outside the small town of Herrin, Illinois, 24 people were killed in a union mine violence standoff.

The tension first began when William Lester, owner of the Southern Illinois Coal Company, paid 50 men from Chicago to work for him while his UMWA miners participated in a nationwide strike.

Because the coal could be sold at a more expensive price, local community members, who were strong supporters of the UMWA, were shocked when Lester fired his employees on June 13, 1922.

Mine Superintendent C.K. McDowell was quoted as saying, “We came down here to work this mine, union or no union. We will work it with blood if necessary, and you tell all the union men to stay away if they don’t want trouble.”

Local community leaders attempted to convince Lester in the days leading up to the massacre to close down the mine due to the rising tension. Despite these conversations, Lester refused, and the current sheriff, Melvin Thaxton, agreed to "protect" the mine from violence occuring.

However, on the afternoon and evening of June 21, 1922, mobs began to form in the Herrin and Marion area marching toward the mine. That afternoon, Superintendent McDowell reported that the mine was being fired upon and urged the state to send in troops as Sheriff Thaxton was nowhere to be seen.

The miners had reportedly agreed to a truce, however the sheriff never went to the mine stating that he needed sleep, and would go in the morning.

Overnight, 24 people were killed by the mobs, including Superintendent McDowell. No one was ever criminally charged or held responsible for what became known as the "Herrin Massacre".

In 2013, the graves of 12 "strikebreakers" were located in the Herrin City Cemetery, and a memorial was erected to honor them. The public is invited to a ceremony that will be held this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at the Herrin City Cemetery to remember those killed. For those who cannot attend, we will live stream the service on our Facebook page.

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