The Insider's Guide to the 'Scranton's Story, Our Nation's Story' Project

Hear from our community partners and University faculty at the center of the effort to reflect on Scranton's place in U.S. history.

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The “Scranton’s Story, Our Nation’s Story” project kicked off in Oct. 2021, delving into the diverse human experience in the city of Scranton, and how that experience is reflective of the greater American story. In the year and a half since, through scholarly programs at the University and story sharing efforts across the city, members of our community have reflected on local and national identity, and our role as citizens in a democracy.

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom grant and seeks to use these conversations and reflections to fulfill our nation-al ideals of freedom, justice, and equality. The team behind “Scranton’s Story, Our Nation’s Story” has focused on envi-sioning a future where we all belong, by highlighting Scranton’s well-celebrated history as well as underrepresented and often-overlooked voices, including Black, Indigenous, and recent immigrant and refugee experiences.

The events and reflections are ongoing throughout 2023, including winter events with local nonprofit and heritage initiative Black Scranton, and a spring neighborhood tour organized by the Lackawanna Historical Society, exploring the religious and ethnic tapestry throughout the city. In 2022, other programs focused on Scranton’s migration stories, past and present.

When the project wraps up in the fall of 2023, a repository of oral histories will be preserved at the University’s Weinberg Memorial Library, where they will be used for future programming and research.

“We have learned so much about one another, about our community, and this country over the past year. In 2022, we sought to bring out less-explored Scranton stories, such as the role of women in the garment industry after the decline of coal, the experiences of recent immigrants from Latin America and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the impact of forced removal of the Lenape people. We identified commonalities and explored differences, all with the hope that we can, in fact, still form that ‘more perfect union’ when we have the courage to confront painful history and when we celebrate and value each member of the community,” said Julie Schumacher Cohen, assistant vice president for Community Engagement and Government Affairs and the project director.

Here, three leaders in the “Scranton’s Story, Our Nation’s Story” project share their reflections about programs that looked at the Indigenous heritage of our region and its industrial past.

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Curtis Zunigha Connects with the Crowd

Hear the keynote lecture from Curtis Zunigha, an enrolled member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Oklahoma) and co-founder / co-director of the Lenape Center in New York.

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Shown at the November 2022 event on campus are Curtis Zunigha, with The University of Scranton President, Rev. Joseph Marina.
Shown at the November 2022 event on campus are Curtis Zunigha, with The University of Scranton President, Rev. Joseph Marina.

Understanding The Indigenous History of the Wyoming Valley

In November 2022, Curtis Zunigha, an enrolled member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Oklahoma) and co-founder/co-director of the Lenape Center in New York, came to campus for a keynote lecture about the forced removal of the Lenape people from the Scranton area, and to advocate for their greater inclusion in the present and future of Scranton. More than 300 people, both from the university and the local community, attended the event and gave Zunigha a standing ovation. Pratt said it was like nothing he had ever seen at a lecture in his academic career. Schumacher Cohen added that the event and visit was memorable and impactful in considering the wounds of colonization, and importantly, is opening new dialogue and relationship building with the Lenape people moving forward.

Dr. Adam PrattAdam Pratt, associate professor of history and collaborator on The University of Scranton Land Acknowledgement statement.

“To understand how the city of Scranton took shape, we need to have a healthy dose of understanding why and how Natives were expelled from this area. Lots of different people have called the Wyoming Valley home, and there are archaeological digs that recover materials that date back thousands of years. When Europeans arrived in what is now New York, New Jersey and the Philly area, the people residing here were the Lenape and the Munsee. In central Pennsylvania, there were the Susquehannock, and to the north, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, or the Iroquois. All three of those groups inhabited the Susquehanna River Valley at different times and for different reasons, but few lived here permanently until the 1730s, when pressure from settlers on the coasts, the ravages of disease, warfare and dislocation caused numerous groups to converge on the Wyoming Valley as a potential safe haven, a refuge from a turbulent world. It wouldn’t last, mostly because the American Revolution upended their fragile ex-istence. In order to survive, most of those peoples, but especially the Lenape and Munsee, migrated west.

The University’s Land Acknowledgement Statement was an important first step in addressing this, and including Native stories and perspectives in ‘Scranton’s Story, Our Nation’s Story’ is the next step.

Projects like these should be what all universities do — we shouldn’t be walled off, but should actively try to engage, inform, and work with the public to shape a more just society. It’s especially fitting for Scranton, as a Jesuit university, as we place so much emphasis on care of the whole person, which is not possible without caring for and understanding our community.”

Curtis ZunighaCurtis Zunigha, Enrolled Member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Oklahoma) and co-founder/co-director of the Lenape Center in New York (excerpt from his keynote).

“I’ve been coming back to the homeland for 25 or 30 years. With all of that history, being pushed westward with each succeeding generation, in this horrible atmosphere of war and domination, you can imagine children, mothers, elders holding on for survival, carrying with them what’s happening in their lives as each mile goes along, to each new border, to each relocation. As each forced removal occurs, it creates a trauma. You can imagine — think what the people of Ukraine are going through, when their cities are getting bombed and their children are getting killed. That’s what we went through, and they carry with them this collective, generational, and historic trauma. And it becomes manifested in our health conditions today. We’ve got a lot of mental health stuff we still have to work out, and oftentimes, that becomes manifested in our physical health and physical behaviors. A lot of people, it’s easier to medicate your anxiety, your depression, your fear with drugs, alcohol, whatever the case may be.

And yet, when I head back to the east, when I come back to the homeland, when I stand at the banks of the rivers, when I look up at the mountains, I call it blood memory. The scientists say it’s your DNA, it’s deep inside you. Now, instead of being this orphan displaced from my mother, the homeland, I come back after centuries and I stand on the banks of the river in my own homeland. I take out my tobacco, I offer a little thanks and a prayer that I’m back. Thank you, Creator, I’m back. Because it stimulates that blood memory and that DNA, and it helps soothe the pain of generational and historic trauma, when I come back to the homeland and engage in these practices of reconnecting with the land, the water, the mountains. It’s like my mother has put her arms around me and welcomed me back. It’s a spiritual connection.”

Connecting Scranton’s Industrial History to the Economy of Today

At the Sept. 9 talk on the Anthracite strike co-organized with the Historical Society, sociologist Dr. Bob Wolensky discussed the different aspects of labor history, including how it intersected with immigration to the area. He also shared how a spokesman for the coal mine owners made this statement during the 1902 anthracite strike hearings: “These men don’t suffer. Why, hell, half of them don’t even speak English.” The project has sought to underscore the discrimination immigrants have faced in the past and continue to today, as well as the ongoing importance of welcoming inclusion.

scranton-story-sarah-piccini-1-2.jpgSarah Piccini ’08, ’10 M.A., Assistant Director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, completed her thesis on the effects of the 1877 railroad and coal strike, a national story that took place in Scranton.

“As a history major at the University, it is nice to put into practice what I learned and to work on this project with people who were my mentors originally and now see me as a peer.

One of our favorite stories is the coal strike of 1902, which is a national story that took place in Scranton. The strike by the United Mine Workers of America began in May 1902, in the anthracite coal fields in eastern Pennsylvania, and threatened to shut down the winter fuel supply to other major American cities. When the strike was finally over, in October of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the anthracite commission to hear the workers’ concerns about wages and work-ing conditions. The commission met in the Lackawanna County courthouse for two months before moving on to Philadelphia, and we hosted a panel about the strike in the same courtroom.

This labor history is important on a national level, because it changed the playing field. Before 1902, the federal govern-ment didn’t get involved with strikes, except to send in the troops. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘No, no, we have to talk about this,’ and started the Anthracite Coal Commission. That was the beginning of the acceptance of unions, collective bargaining and arbitration, rather than firing everyone. It all happened in Scranton. At the time, everyone relied on coal, and it all came from Scranton.”

Sharing and Exploring Migration Stories Past and Present

In 2022, other programs focused on Scranton’s migration stories past and present, in support of the theme “From ‘Immigrant’ to Citizen.” On Oct. 25, 2022, an Interactive Story Exchange and Writers Panel “All The Places We Come From: Stories, Food, & Community,” took place at the Scranton Cultural Center. An evening of story-sharing around the theme of migration featuring nationally-acclaimed writers Anna Badhken, Joseph O’Neill, Chinelo Okparanta and Monica Sok. The event began with appetizers and sweets from Scranton’s multi-ethnic restaurants, and a story-exchange facilitated by the artist-driven international empathy building organization, Narrative 4.

Now It’s Your Turn: Share Your Scranton Story 

What does it mean to be a Scrantonian? What hopes do you have for Scranton as we look to its future? As alumni of The University of Scranton, how did the city play a role in your learning? We’re looking for a diverse array of stories and experiences — submit your contribution to the oral history collection at

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