Part III: Organizations and Contributions of Slovak-Americans
A number of forces worked toward the unmistakable imperative that the Slovaks in America become united in some effective way. There was the natural advisability of seeking strength in unity and the social advantage of sharing through close intercommunication. There was the psychological and genetic bond of common origin and common identity. But above all, there was the obligation of seeking and attaining social justice.
Personal suffering and the problem of dealing with the resentment and prejudice of earlier classes of immigrants were matters to be dealt with on a personal or local level, but there were other issues and developments where united action was the only reasonable approach toward solution. Among these were such matters as labor difficulties, especially when they involved legal entanglements and the miscarriage of justice. On several occasions this happened in the aftermath of a labor strike.
When the bloody events of the Braddock, Pennsylvania, strike in 1891 ended, 44 Slovaks were among the arrested miners. The verdict at the February trial brought the sentence of death by hanging for Andrew Toth, Michael Sabol and George Rusnak. The rest of the arrested Slovak miners were given 3-12 month prison sentences. Only the collective outcry of Slovaks in all parts of the United States and a drive for voluntary contributions to appeal the case helped to redeem the situation. Sabol and Rusnak were eventually freed but Toth served 19 years of his sentence, commuted to life imprisonment, before he was released and became a man finally vindicated.
The horrible 1897 Lattimer massacre in the Hazleton, Pennsylvania area also evolved out of a legitimate strike of miners. It left 20 men dead and 50 wounded. The subsequent trial and legal investigation were a gross travesty of justice and again there was urgent need for a united body of Slovak-Americans to come to the defense of their own.
These and similar tragedies pointed up the urgency for unity and united action. They lent compelling substance to the talks of movement for the federation of local societies.