Pana riot

The Pana riot, or Pana massacre, was a coal mining labor conflict and also a racial conflict that occurred on April 10, 1899, in Pana, Illinois, and resulted in the deaths of seven people. It was one of many similar labor conflicts in the coal mining regions of Illinois that occurred in 1898 and 1899.

Pana massacre
DateApril 10, 1899
LocationPana, Illinois, United States
Also known asPana riot
ParticipantsWhite union miners and black miners (strikebreakers) from Alabama
OutcomeBlack miners were driven out of Pana
Deaths7 (two whites, one miner killed by white policeman; and five black miners); six black miners wounded

The United Mine Workers of America had called a strike that affected numerous mines; mine owners retaliated by hiring guards and some 300 African-American miners from Alabama to serve as strikebreakers. After a confrontation in which a white union miner was killed, the miners turned on black strikebreakers, believing them responsible. Two whites were killed in the violence and five blacks, with another six African Americans wounded.


Striking white miners had been out of work for nearly a year when the Overholt brothers, part owners of one of the four Pana mines, went to Alabama to recruit African-American "scab" labor (strikebreakers) in an effort to re-open the mines. Previous attempts to open the mines with white non-union workers had failed amid violence. The state had stationed militia in Pana to preserve peace. Nearly 300 African Americans were recruited to work in the mines and break the strike.

According to first-hand accounts collected in the 1940s by Eleanor Burnhorn, a well-known Pana history teacher, the new African-American recruits from Alabama had been told they would be working in newly opened mines. They were not aware of the strike until they reached the town. There the company housed the black non-union workers in poor conditions, either inside the confines of Springside Mine on the northeast side of town, or in a building located just west of Penwell mine. Local residents derogatorily called it the "Alabama Hotel".

Despite the promise of better wages in the North, black workers who ran the gauntlet of strikers were paid by the company in coupons or scrip, good only at stores designated by the mine owners. They were paid less than the white strikers, receiving 27 1/2 cents per tonne. In early 1899, the black coal miners at Pana formed the Afro-Anglo Mutual Association (AAMA) in order to protect their interests in relation to the white union miners. The Daily Breeze described its leader, Henry Stevens, as being "hard as iron and his muscles stand out like whip cords. His biceps are as large as the calf of an ordinary man's leg. He stands about six feet, two inches tall and he will weigh in the neighborhood of 200 pounds."[1]

Due to previous labor unrest at Pana, the AAMA lobbied Governor John Riley Tanner to guarantee that black and nonunion miners would receive the same protection from the National Guard as the union miners. The pleas seem to have been ignored because, soon after, Governor Tanner removed the soldiers who were keeping order. Black strikebreakers were left at the mercy of local whites, who were openly hostile to them. Stevens sent a delegate to Governor Tanner, who asked that the soldiers be retained in Pana, but Stevens' request was ignored. The act of diplomacy, though unsuccessful, represented the black miners' will to resolve the situation peaceably. It contradicted their negative characterization as strikebreakers that were so often reported in contemporaneous newspapers.

Gun battleEdit

On April 10, 1899, a confrontation occurred in Pana between the AAMA and union miners, with some police on the scene. Sometime during the event, a scuffle broke out, and a union miner was shot and killed. Although it was later found that he was killed by a shot fired by a white policeman, the situation escalated into a riot between the whites and the blacks. At least five blacks were killed and six more were wounded. Two white men, including the miner, were killed. The second was the son of the county sheriff, also thought to be killed by a white man.[1]

The local newspaper[which?] devoted its reporting primarily to the union miners and the two white fatalities. Historians have found that deaths among the blacks included Henry Johnson, Louis Hooks, James L. James, and Charles Watkins from Georgia, and Julia Dash, wife of a black miner. The black wounded included Clinton Rolo, Louis Whitfield, Charles York, Ed Delinquest, F. C. Dorsey, and George Freak.[1]

Immediately after the massacre, union miners rounded up all the blacks they saw and had them held at the city jail. There were fears that the blacks would be lynched. Finally, Governor Tanner ordered the militia to occupy Pana, which restored peace.

It was later revealed that the confrontation was partly caused by a failed attempt to recruit a large force of union miners, who were to be used to drive the blacks out of Pana.

Grand jury and trialsEdit

A grand jury indicted some white miners for having a role in the massacre; none was convicted. Henry Stevens, as leader of the AAMA, was indicted on three counts of intent to kill.


After the massacre of April 10, many of Pana's black residents moved away, with travel support from the union. Operators and union miners began arbitration talks to settle the strike, but black miners objected because they were not represented.

The mine operators, to demonstrate good faith in arbitration but also out of fear of violence, temporarily shut down all of Pana's mines in late June. The black community, lacking any type of support networks, was left impoverished and destitute by the extremely low wages paid by the operators. They appealed to Governor Tanner for financial support to assist them in returning to Alabama. Ultimately, many paid their own way to go to Weir, Kansas, where they were recruited to break another mining strike. According to historian Millie Meyerholtz, 211 blacks moved west, primarily to Weir. Only 63 returned to Alabama and the Jim Crow South.[1] Those who remained in Pana were driven out during the rest of the summer. Many ended up in Springfield. Those who settled there faced violence again during the Springfield Race Riot of 1908.[1][2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e N. Lenstra (2009). "The African-American mining experience in Illinois from 1800 to 1920" (PDF). University of Illinois IDEALS.
  2. ^ "Still Growling and Flipping". The Semi-Weekly Messenger. Wilmington, North Carolina. July 21, 1899. p. 4 – via Chronicling America. He then cites a press dispatch of a week or so ago from Pana, Illinois. It is an edifying account and well worthy of reproducing here: 'The last of the negro colony of fully 1,000 brought here by operators during the past ten months to supplant union men, departed last night on tickets furnished by Governor Tanner. All the mines are closed. John Hicklin, a negro barber, was waited on last night and ordered to leave the city in five days. He appealed to Mayor German for protection, claiming the lives of himself and family in jeopardy.' Here two things manifest: That 1,000 negroes brought to Illinois were not wanted and were sent away; and that a negro barber was not allowed to live longer where he pursued his calling. The beam is in the big northern eye while it is blinking at the mote in the southern eye.

Further readingEdit