Black Valley: The Life and Death of Fannie Sellins
An account of United Mine Workers of America organizer who was gunned down in August 1919 on the eve of the nationwide steel strike that engulfed Southwestern Pennsylvania in labor violence.
Pittsburgh is a hardworking city. And hard workers sometimes enjoy the occasional spirit. So, when Prohibition hit the Steel City, it created a level of violence and corruption residents had never witnessed.
Illegal producers ran stills in kitchens, basements, bathroom tubs, warehouses and even abandoned distilleries. War between gangs of bootleggers resulted in a number of murders and bombings that placed Pittsburgh on the same level as New York City and Chicago in criminal activity.
John Bazzano ordered the killing of the Volpe brothers but did so without the permission of Mafia bosses. His battered body was later found on the street in Brooklyn. Author Richard Gazarik details the shady side of the Steel City during a tumultuous era.
Muckracking journalist Walter Liggett dubbed Pittsburgh the “Metropolis of Corruption” in 1930 when he reported the city has more vice per square foot than New York, Detroit, Cleveland or Boston.
Decades earliers, the Magee-Flinn political machine ruled public officials, and crooked police helped racketeers protect brothels and gambling dens. Mayor (later Governor) David Lawrence was indicted several times for graft but acquitted each time.
Even Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. colluded with gangsters, according to FBI reports. Join author Richard Gazarik as he reveals the wicked history of the Steel City.
The Mayor of Shantytown
Father James R. Cox was the voice of Pittsburgh’s poor and jobless during the worst years of the Great Depression. Long lines of needy people showed up daily at St. Patrick’s Church in the city’s historic Strip District but Cox turned no one away.
He served more than two million meals to the hungry and was the “mayor” of a shantytown of homeless men. Cox led one of the first mass marches on Washington, D.C., in 1932, confronting President Herbert Hoover in a face-to-face White House meeting.
He later ran for president himself on the Jobless Party ticket—a quixotic campaign that ended in the deserts of New Mexico. Cox’s reputation as a humanitarian was ruined after he barely escaped a mail fraud conviction forrunning a rigged fundraising contest.