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The dedication of a memorial created in memory of 113 Black miners, wives and children who came to Pana in search of a brighter future as coal miners in 1899 will be held at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 at Latonis Train Village, 5 Oak Street (corner of Main and Oak Streets). It has been 125 years since the Pana Mine War of 1898-99 in which almost 40 of those people died as a result of violence which followed their arrival.
The miners came with their families on the premise of a new coal mine opening. They expected to improve their lives with good work opportunities at the three mines then operating. Instead, they were brought into the town where white union coal miners had been on strike since April 1897.
Millie Meyerholz, former senior reporter for Pana News-Palladium, was assigned to research the Pana Mine War by then-editor Tom Latonis to commemorate the 100th year since the strikers’ conflict in 1998. A twice-published book was published following the 10-part series which was featured in the newspaper.
Dr. Helaine Silverman, co-director of The Mythic Mississippi Project at University of Illinois, Urbana, is the keynote speaker. She will tell about the strife that resulted: Confrontations, shootings, and mine accidents caused the deaths of some African Americans. Due to poor sanitation and disease, others died along with their wives and children.
An estimated 700 to 800 African-Americans came from Birmingham, Ala. on the Illinois Central Railroad. The monument is placed at the east edge of the ICRR right-of way near the track switch tower which is the focal point of the railroad village. Also, some African-American miners came from other parts of the United States to work in Pana. The deceased African-Americans were buried at City Cemetery, according to Pana coroner’s reports of that period. The name was changed to Twin Pines Cemetery in 1992.
According to the 2020 Federal census, there were 69 African-American residents in Pana.
Tom Latonis of Latonis Train Village will welcome those attending, with an Invocation following by Rev. Steve Nance, pastor of the Rosamond Community Presbyterian Church and St. Paul’s Church of Christ, Oilman. Other speakers will be Millie Meyerholz, project director; Dr. Rosemary Fuerer, associate director of History, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, whose subject will be Henry Stephens, leader of the Black miners.
Keynote speaker is Dr. Helaine Silverman, professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-director of the Mythic Mississippi Project which involves coal mining towns.
Rev. Dale Sims will call out names of 38 African-American miners and a miner’s wife who perished and officiate the dedication.
Information about the late David Tarvin, Sr., who contributed his drawings and information about interviews he conducted for an unpublished book about the mine war will be included.
There will be an unveiling of the monument and the closing prayer will be by Rev. Leon Goff, pastor of United in Faith Church, Pana.
The public is invited to attend and encouraged to bring lawn chairs. Following the ceremony, refreshments will be served in the Pana History Museum, just south of the train village, at 38 S. Oak. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the museum.