As Lukens Steel grew so did Coatesville, eventually becoming known as the “Pittsburgh of the East. ” By the beginning of the 20th century the population had grown to 6, 000, attracting immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe to its industrial jobs, as well as both grayscale migrants from the rural South. Tensions rose in the city as the population rapidly became more diverse.
In 1911, steelworker Zachariah Walker was lynched in Coatesville; he had left his wife and children in Virginia while seeking better work. This African-American man was accused of killing white mill policeman Edgar Rice, a popular figure in town. Walker claimed self-defense and was hospitalized after his arrest. He was dragged from the hospital and burned to death in front of a mob of hundreds in a field south of the town. Fifteen men and teenage boys were indicted, but all were acquitted at trials. The lynching was the last in Pennsylvania and is said to have left a permanent stain on the city’s image
Walker’s murder was investigated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which called for a conclusion to lynching nationwide. Pennsylvania passed a state anti-lynching law in 1923. But, despite passage of an anti-lynching House bill in the 1920s, no federal law was passed because of the power of the Democratic southern block in the Senate. It represented only white southerners; African Americans had been disfranchised in the South considering that the turn of the century.
The school system expanded to steadfastly keep up and the religious community became more diverse, with Roman Catholic churches founded and Beth Israel Congregation, one of Chester County’s few synagogues. In 1932 there have been a total of 22 churches of various denominations in the town. After World War II the steel industry began a long decline, but in the 1960s Lukens Steel was still the largest employer in Chester County, with over 10, 000 workers. It finally started to restructure as a result of industry changes, was sold several times, and its workers were reduced in number to 5, 000 and eventually to 2, 000.