As of 2015 there are about 15 million Americans of Italian descent. The majority of their ancestors came to the USA from Italy between 1890 and 1920. Things were not easy for them. In addition to being in an unfamiliar country, they were not welcome and treated very badly. They were often called WOPs because they arrived at Ellis Island without papers.
Italy did not become the country we think of until 1861. Prior to that time it was a group of separate nations. The southern area, especially Calabria, was under the control of Spain. Thanks to the efforts of Giuseppe Garibaldi (04 Jul 1807 – 02 Jun 1882), the country was united in 1861. However, although technically united, there was much animosity between the northern and southern parts of the country. The power resided in the north and they used it to tax almost everything the southerners did. The southerners learned to keep their mouths shut and brought that attitude to America.
The first Italian immigrants came from Sicily (in the south) and went to New Orleans. Here they were viewed as sinister by the non-Italians. When the Chief of Police Hennessey was murdered, the Italians were blamed and over 200 were arrested. Nineteen were eventually charged and the local newspaper gave them the name Mafia. Nine of the Italians were tried and acquitted. A crowd of 8,000 broke into the police station shooting some and others were lynched. The New York Times, which did not hide its prejudice against the Italians, reported “Chief Hennessey Avenged.” In its 16 Mar 1891 edition the newspaper referred to the victims of the lynchings as “… sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins.” The following day the paper ran an editorial in which they argued that the “Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans. …” John Parker, one of the organizers of the lynching was elected to the governorship of Louisiana in 1911. Future president Theodore Roosevelt referred to the lynchings as “a rather good thing.” To this day it remains the deadliest lynching to occur on US soil. On 12 Apr 2019, the New Orleans passed an official Proclamation of Apology over the lynchings.
Text © 2019 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.
Do you have any Italian ancestry?