Southern Illinois town honors the miners of Herrin Massacre in 1922 with a fitting memorial
A quiet Southern Illinois town has finally laid the ghosts to rest. Home to one of the nation’s deadliest labor conflicts, where victims were sent walking down the city streets and humiliated beyond measure of cheering onlookers before their throats were slit and they bled to death, the Illinois town finally gave a fitting memorial.
Most of the victims of the terrible Herrin Massacre — three union coal miners on strike and 20 replacement workers and guards — were buried in June 1922 in unmarked graves in an old pauper’s field at the city cemetery. They lay there forgotten in time and a desire to not call undue attention to it in a town that’s a union stronghold.
Since 2009, a local talk radio host’s sustained campaign to honor a World War I veteran among the massacre victims led to an excavation of the grave site and the city started to change its approach. This week, the anniversary of the mass burial, Herrin will unveil a monument that names 17 of the victims.
Everybody wanted to sweep it under the carpet. “No one mentioned the massacre. It was a black day,” said retired miner Bill Sizemore, 59, who said he didn’t know about it for most of his life. “The people of Herrin weren’t proud of this episode.”
“However, now the attitude is changing,” said Sizemore, a city council member with deep roots in the coal community who helped his colleagues come around and build the memorial. “The city of Herrin has finally laid the ghosts to rest and embraced its past with a memorial.”
For a long time, that wasn’t the case. Scott Doody, the former radio host who enlisted geologists, a forensic anthropologist and a retired county sheriff, said he was threatened with arrest by the then-Herrin Mayor Vic Ritter.