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The Coal and Iron Police: A Sub-group of the Honorable Michael A. Musmanno Collection

Identifier: MSS 003

Scope and Contents

The Coal and Iron Police papers help to document Musmanno's fight against the Coal and Iron Police exploitation. The collection consists of correspondence, newspapers and magazine clippings, photographs, statements by Musmanno and various Coal Union representatives, trial, preparation notes, notes for his Black Fury book and the script for the movie, Barkowski trial transcripts, coal mine statistics and other miscellaneous forms. Musmanno represented Mrs. Sophia Barkowski in the Barkowski case. Mr. Barkowski was brutally murdered by three Coal and Iron police officers, Walter Lyster, Harold Watts amd Frank Slapikas. Musmanno played an important role in the trial that attempted to bring these three men to justice. Unfortunately, the men were acquitted. Musmanno corresponded with numerous important figures of the time: Governor Fisher, Governor Earle, Governor Pinchot, Reverend James Cox, Josephine Roche (the best-known woman industrialist in the nation at the time), as well as the State Attorney Generals. Musmanno also compiled a dossier on various mine company properties, consisting of logistics for the relationship between buildings, railroad lines and mine. There were copious handwritten notes pertaining to Black Furry, a novel written by Musmanno after the movie of the same title. Two other items of special note is a complete Bulletin Index from 1940 and two compiled booklets over-viewing the fatality statistics for 1930 and 1933. Special note should be made of the depictions of the atrocities performed by the Coal and Iron Police that Musmanno carefully collected – some appeared in periodicals. They are first-hand account and contribute important insight. Although this collection is relatively small it furnishes an important documentation of a significant time of Pittsburgh area history. The main weakness of the collection is the poor condition of many of the correspondence. The paper (both newspaper and correspondence) is deteriorating-yellow, brittle and crumbling. The newspapers clippings have been transferred to acid free paper. They should be handled with care. All the photographs related to the Coal and Iron Police can be found in the Photography collection.


  • 1922 - 1964

Biographical / Historical

Born in Stowe Township (located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on April 7, 1897, the Honorable Michael A. Musmanno's long and distinguished career began in the 1920s and did not end until his death in 1968. During his youth, he worked in an American coalmine, which provided him with first-hand knowledge of the plight of miners. Throughout his long and distinguished career, he was a part of major events, which shaped the twentieth century. After passing the bar in 1923, he quickly became a member of the Sacco and Vanzetti defense team. He would remain convinced of the two men’s innocence for the rest of his life. After being elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 1930s, he helped abolish the Coal and Iron Police. In 1932, he began his long judicial career when he became a trial judge for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. He served in both World Wars, and after World War II became the military governor of Sorrento, Italy. He also served as a judge at the Nuremberg Trials (he was the President Judge of the Einsatzgruppen Trial). He was also the President of the United States Forcible Repatriation Commission in Austria passion on demands of Soviet Russia for return of refugees and on the United States’ committee to determine whether Hitler survived the war. In the 1950s, he crusaded against Communism, and was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, he was a major local supporter of both the Civil Rights movement and John Kennedy. He was also a witness at the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem. He was a playwright and author of sixteen books including After Twelve Years (1939), Ten Days to Die (1950), Across the street from the courthouse (1954), Verdict! (1958), The Eichmann Kommandos (1961) and The Story of the Italians (1965). Musmanno was always immensely proud of his Italian heritage, campaigning for Columbus Day to be a national holiday. He vehemently defended the idea that Columbus was the first European to reach America. Fittingly he died on Columbus Day, October 12, 1968.


2 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The personal papers and library of the former Pennsylvania State Supreme Court justice, congressman, and author Michael A. Musmanno are located in the University Archives at Duquesne University. Documents include papers from Musmanno’s time as a defense attorney in the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, judge in the Nuremberg Trials, witness in the case against Adolf Eichmann, and interviews with Hitler’s associates. The collection also covers papers related to campaigns to end the Sunday Blue Laws, illegalize the Communist Party and to disband the Coal and Iron Police. In his youth, Michael Musmanno worked in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. This experience gave him first hand knowledge of the poor working conditions of the mines. While he was a member of the state legislature In 1929, Musmanno submitted a bill that would abolish the private police forces employed by the various companies in Western PA, or at least curtail their powers. These police forces were notoriously brutal and caused much tension between the workers and the companies. The PA statutes giving the companies the right to hire such police forces were passed in 1865 and 1866. Pennsylvania was the only state to have such private police forces. While Musmanno was serving as a state representative, John Barkowski, an employee of Pittsburgh Coal Company, was brutally beaten to death by members of the Coal and Iron Police for no apparent reason. This incident motivated Musmanno to take up the cause against the private police force. Musmanno's first attempt to repeal the law were vetoed by the Governor. After serving two terms in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the various bills introduced had still not passed. Musmanno, though, continued to be active in the fight against the Coal and Iron Police. He wrote a movie script, Black Fury, which was fictional but loosely based on the Barkowski tragedy. It was then made into a major motion picture and Musmanno used this opportunity to expose the atrocities of the police force. The movie also stirred the emotions of the people and opposition to the Coal and Iron Police became widespread. The publicity generated from Black Fury apparently influenced the members of the state senate and the bill repealing the law that brought the Coal and Iron Police into existence was finally passed on June 5th 1935. Even though Musmanno was not a member of the legislature at the time the bill was passed, his name was always associated with the fight against and eventual end to the Coal and Iron Police. In 1965, he wrote a book based on the same story. It too was titled Black Fury.

Processing Information

Processed by Roberta J. Williamson, February 1998; processed by Anaïs Grateau, September 2016

The Coal and Iron Police
Duquesne University Archives and Special Collection
Anais Grateau
September 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Edition statement
Processed by Roberta J. Williamson, February 1998; processed by Anaïs Grateau, September 2016

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository