Williamson County Judge Brad Bleyer authorized a team, comprised of researchers from Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University, to begin excavating at the Herrin City Cemetery in Southern Illinois.
The research team hopes to locate and exhume the graves of people who died during a violent 1922 labor strike, known as the Herrin Massacre.
When the United Mine Workers of America started a nationwide strike on April 1, 1922, W. J. Lester, the owner of the Southern Illinois Coal Company, complied with the strike. But in June Lester went back on his agreement with the union and hired nonunion workers and armed security from Chicago to keep production going at his mine.
Supporters of the unionized workers went to Herrin when they heard out about the situation, and the union workers and their supporters exchanged gunfire with the guards. After two union workers were killed in skirmishes on June 21st, hundreds more union supporters showed up at the mine on the 22nd and the nonunion workers surrendered.
The nonunion workers and guards were told to leave the area but were walked about two miles from the mine and executed. 19 people were killed that day, and one other worker died a few months later. In all 22 people were killed during the 1922 Herrin Massacre. Though there was a trial no one was convicted for the massacre.
Researchers believe the victims were buried in a potter’s field at the Herrin City Cemetery.
Scott Doody, a local historian who wrote a book on the massacre, and his team believe there are modern burials on top of the 1922 graves. Some of the bodies may be buried in plots that may have been resold. Right now they are hoping to locate these unmarked graves and then go from there.
Though this article doesn’t say what the plan is after they find the bodies, but I would imagine it would include exhumation, especially if there are bodies doubled up in plots, or already in plots people have been paid for. Hopefully they will return the bodies of the massacre victims to loved ones and give them proper burials.
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