Photo: Italian immigrants leave New York's Ellis Island.
In the late 19th century, Italians arrived in the United States, escaping poverty and aftermath of natural disasters and legacy of violence that gripped the recently united Italy. Between the 1880s and 1890s, the number of Italian immigrants in the United States doubled from 300,000 to 600,000. A decade later, that number would jump to two million people, and would double again a decade after that.
The influx of Italian immigrants did not go unnoticed by the same kind of anti-immigrant movements that characterized previous waves of ethnic migrations to the United States. Anti-Catholic organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, a group notorious for its persecution of African Americans, vandalized and burned Italian churches and lynched Italian immigrants.
In 1891, a now-infamous episode of anti-Italian bigotry began with the shooting of a police chief in New Orleans that led the mayor to call for a rounding up of over 100 Sicilian Americans. Nineteen of them were put on trial and acquitted. Rather than being released, a mob of 10,000 people broke into the jail, dragged 11 Sicilian Americans out of their cells -- two of whom weren't even charged with the shooting -- and lynched them.
The incident led to outrage among Italians worldwide, but was generally condoned in the U.S. press. In fact, one participant in the lynch mob, John Parker, a well known anti-Italian bigot, would go on to be governor of Louisiana some three decades later.
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