Pana riot

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Pana massacre
Date April 10, 1899
Location Pana, Illinois, United States
Also known as Pana riot
Deaths 7

The Pana riot, or Pana massacre, 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 1899 Illinois.


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 "scab" labor in an effort to re-open the mines. Previous attempts to open the mines with white non-union workers had failed amid violence. According to first hand accounts collected by Eleanor Burnhorn, a well-known Pana history teacher, in the 1940s, the new recruits were told they would be working in newly opened mines. They were not aware of the strike until they arrived.

The black non-union workers were housed in poor conditions either inside the confines of Springside Mine on the northeast side of town or in a building not-so-affectionately called the "Alabama Hotel" by local residents. It was located just west of Penwell mine.

Despite the promise of a new life in the North, black workers who did manage to run the gauntlet of strikers were paid in coupons good only at stores designated by the mine owners. This prevented them from having cash to purchase transportation out of town. Their pay was also less than that of the strikers, at 27 1/2 cents per tone. Some were family men, but the majority were a rough lot, consisting of heavy drinkers, gamblers, and those prone to street violence. Striking white miners could easily fit this description, as well.

In early 1899, the Afro-Anglo Mutual Association (AAMA) was formed by the black coal miners of Pana in order to protect their interests from white union miners. Although there is a lack of any records produced by the AAMA, an Illinois newspaper paper 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."

Due to previous unrest, the AAMA lobbied the state government of John Riley Tanner to guarantee that black and nonunion miners would receive the same protection from the National Guard as the Union miners. However, the pleas seem to have been ignored because, soon after, Governor Tanner removed the soldiers that were keeping order, which left the blacks at the mercy of local whites, who were openly hostile to them. Stevens responded by sending a delegate to the Governor Tanner, who requested that the soldiers continue their occupation, but again he was ignored. The act of diplomacy, though unsuccessful, represented the black miners' will to resolve the situation peaceably and contradicted their negative characterization as strikebreakers that were so often perpetuated by contemporary newspapers.

Gun battle

On April 10, 1899, a confrontation occurred in Pana between the AAMA and union miners. Sometime during the event, a scuffle broke out and a union miner was shot and killed. Although the shot was later found to have been fired by a white policeman, the situation escalated into a riot between the whites and the blacks. In the end, at least five blacks were killed and six more were wounded. Two white men were also killed, including the Union miner and the son of the sheriff.

It is difficult to determine the actual death toll and the reaction from the black community to the event. The local newspaper completely overlooked the black deaths and focused heavily on the two white fatalities. Nonetheless, among the black dead killed were Henry Johnson, Louis Hooks, James L. James, 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. Immediately after the massacre, all the blacks who were seen in Pana were put in jail by union miners and there were fears that a lynching would occur. Finally, Governor Tanner order 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 would then be used to drive the blacks out of Pana. The courts of Illinois were entirely against the black miners; none of the whites who were involved in the massacre were convicted while Henry Stevens received 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. Because no one was there to represent the blacks, those who remained in Pana protested against the arbitration talks that began between operators and union miners. The operators, in order to demonstrate their good faith with regard to the arbitration talks and also out of fear of increased violence, temporarily shut down all of Pana's coal mines in late June. As a result, the entire black community was immediately left destitute, as it lacked the local and regional support networks upon which white union miners could rely. It should also be noted that the blacks' economic plight was due in large part to the extremely low wages paid to them and the wage system that prevented any type of accumulation of capital.

In response, the black community met to discuss what it should do next. Many feared that another riot was imminent, but the final result of the meeting was to appeal to Governor Tanner for financial support to assist the now-destitute blacks in leaving the state. Most went to Weir, Kansas and became involved in the labor dispute there, others went to Alabama. According to Illinois historian Millie Meyerholtz, 211 blacks moved west, primarily to Weir, and only sixty-three opted to return to Alabama. Those who remained in Pana were driven out in the following months. Many of these holdouts ended up in Springfield, only to face violence again during the Springfield Race Riot of 1908.

See also