In the early 20th century there was a great demand for workers and, despite the New Orleans incident, Italians were willing to come to America to fill those positions. Between 1900 and 1920, three million immigrants came to America from southern Italy. Many of them considered the move to be temporary as they did not want to leave their families. Many of the men made multiple trips which resulted in them being known as “birds of passage.” Their wives were known as “white widows.”
Some went to work in the mines of Pennsylvania. Many went to Carbondale, Pennsylvania or Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to work in the steel industry.
The Black Hand
The Italian government pressured many criminals to go to America. They continued to function as criminals in New York City. Like other immigrant groups, they victimized their own and began extorting from immigrant-owned businesses. If the business owner didn’t pay, their stores were bombed and their children were kidnapped. The criminals called themselves “The Black Hand.” The police, who were almost entirely Irish, had no interest in the plight of the Italian immigrants. They didn’t speak Italian and had no interest in going into Little Italy.
However, a police detective by the name of Giuseppe Petrosino, himself an immigrant, put together a squad of policemen to deal with the Black Hand. He won some victories which resulted in many Black Hand members being deported back to Italy. In 1909 he went to Italy to check out some leads where he was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily. Thousands of immigrants came out to show their respect at his funeral.
Have you ever been to Italy?