After a surge in immigration from Italy during the 1880s, Italians became closely associated with anarchy, socialism, and general crime from the 1890s to the 1930s. "Italian anarchists" is a phrase that was frequently repeated in the newspapers, as was "Italian radical."
By the 1880s, "Anarchists" had emerged as the terrorists of their day. During the 1880s, Anarchists fought for the rights of laborers and against capitalism. The term was eventually used liberally to describe anyone who might disrupt the status quo through violence. Socialists were frequently associated with anarchy, demanding better pay through labor strikes. Laborers struggling to gain adequate pay and humane working hours through unions were derided as radical and violent socialists.
Waterbury's Italian immigrants were often connected to labor strikes. In 1888, Italian workers on a new railroad line connecting Waterbury and Meriden went on strike, demanding an increase in pay of 25 cents per day. A "red flag" was raised by the strikers, a symbol of their socialist beliefs ("Trouble with Railway Strikers," Democrat and Chronicle, 13 April 1888).
Waterbury Police Superintendent George W. Beach had little patience for immigrants. After a series of problems with Italian immigrants in 1905, Beach declared that he would "arrest and search... every man against whom their is the slightest suspicion of carrying concealed weapons." Beach referred to Waterbury's Italian immigrant laborers as "half-civilized people" who should "confine their butcheries and shootings to themselves." The laborers were being brought in to Waterbury at a rate of about 150 per day to work in the factories, living in shanties on the outskirts of town since there wasn't enough housing available for all of them. They worked long hours six days a week, kicking back with kegs of beer on Saturday nights, followed by rowdy carousing. Beach considered the Italian immigrants to be a "grave danger" for Waterbury.
|Bridgeport Herald, 10 Dec 1905|
In March of 1912, a young Italian anarchist, Antonio D'Alba, tried to assassinate King Victor Emmanuel III in Rome. D'Alba reputedly lived in Waterbury as a teenager, learning the brick mason and stone mason trades and immersing himself in socialist and anarchist propaganda during his free time ("Italians Say Dalba Lived in Waterbury," Hartford Courant, 16 March 1912). He was said to have left Waterbury when he was 19.
Italian "radicals" kept the public on edge. A June 1920 strike in Waterbury turned deadly when an Italian striker, Liberio Liso (also reported as Liberto Rizo), was fatally shot by police. Two Waterbury police officers, Lt. Richard Leroy and John J. Bergin, were also shot during the melee. Liso was branded as a "violent radical" following his death, and the newspapers reported that Bolshevist and radical literature was found in his pockets, along with a membership card for the Waterbury Workers' Association, a labor union for unskilled workers.
On September 16, 1920, an explosion on Wall Street killed 37 people and injured hundreds. The Department of Justice tracked down their primary suspect, Giacomo Carusso, to Waterbury ("Bomb Suspect Arrested on Clue from Waterbury," Hartford Courant, 7 Oct 1920). They lost the trail of Carusso and his five associates in the "Italian section" of Waterbury, but they were eventually arrested in NYC. While in Waterbury, the Carusso gang held up a restaurant full of people on Bank Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Witnesses were brought to NYC to identify them by Waterbury Detective Lt. Thomas Colasanto. Although guilty of the robbery in Waterbury, Carusso and associates were eventually cleared of charges relating to the bombing on Wall Street.
|Hartford Courant, 7 Oct 1920|
In 1923, the Waterbury police prevented Carlo Tresca from speaking at a meeting of Waterbury Italians at Our Lady of Lourdes parish hall. The police forcibly removed Tresca from the hall and told him to leave town. The newspapers called Tresca "an alleged radical" who planned to speak against the fascist movement. Tresca is today remembered as a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union and a leading opponent of fascism, Stalinism, and the Mafia infiltration of the trade unions.
|Norwalk Hour, 27 Feb 1923|
The best known case of anti-Italian and anti-socialist hysteria during the 1920s is the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and execution, which happened in Boston. In Waterbury, as in cities throughout the northeast, Sacco-Vanzetti sympathizers organized to protest their execution. Visiting speakers at a gathering of the Waterbury Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee on August 9, 1927 denounced the "capitalists who in a few short hours will burn our brothers, Sacco and Vanzetti, in the electric chair." ("300 Protest Execution of Two Radicals," Hartford Courant, 10 Aug 1927).
Part One: Irish Immigrants
Part Two: German Immigrants
Part Three: Italian Immigrants
Part Four: Russian Immigrants
Part Five: Chinese and Japanese Immigrants