Divisions and Decline

The vast majority of Springfield Lithuanian-Americans are descended from early 20th Century coal-mining immigrants, who, with their families, constituted a community of several thousand by 1917.

U.S. immigration restrictions after 1920 aimed at keeping out miners and other laborers seen as socialists and agitators cut off new migrants to the U.S. from Lithuania and many other Eastern and Southern European countries.

Indeed, there was significant unionist-socialist sentiment among Lithuanian immigrants in Springfield, based on injustices suffered in the mines and factories where they worked.  Lithuanian-American socialism also had roots in various anti-czarist movements in the homeland.

In the early 1900s, passionate divisions between the two strains of Lithuanian identity, socialist vs. nationalist-Catholic, initially made it difficult for the community to pull together and build its Lithuanian Catholic church, St. Vincent de Paul’s.  This fact is briefly mentioned on page 10 of a history booklet published by the parish to commemorate its jubilee in 1956: “Evidently, the establishment of the Lithuanian (Catholic) parish in Springfield was not an easy or a promising job, for a Lithuanian socialist element was doing much to bring discord in the parish organization.”

In the 1920 and ’30s, coal mine closures and labor strife also eroded the size of the community here, sending many local Lithuanians to Chicago or Detroit to find work. In fact, the exodus after 1920 was so marked that many in the diocese speculated that the Lithuanian church that had been built with so much love and at such cost would not long survive. (Fortunately, it survived for 63 years, and despite declining membership in the late 1960s would have stayed open longer if not for a decision by the diocese to close it.)

To read why many local Lithuanian miners could not “make it” in the mines, see: https://lithspringfield.com/lithuanian-local-history-2/the-mine-wars/the-mining-life

For more on the Central Illinois “Mine Wars,” also see: https://lithspringfield.com/lithuanian-local-history-1/the-mine-wars

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