Salvatore J. LaGumina, Professor Emeritus of History and Director of the Center for Italian American Studies at Nassau Community College, award-winning author of over 20 books and more than a hundred of scholarly articles on the experience of Italian immigrants in the United States, and beloved husband, father, and grandfather, passed away on Sunday December 31, 2023, at the age of 95.
The son of Sicilian immigrants, Salvatore was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928. He received his bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University and his master’s degree and doctorate from St. John’s University. As a scholar of history, Salvatore’s research and writings focused on the experience of Italian Americans. Salvatore focused particularly on Italian Americans who settled on Long Island. Salvatore’s years of dedicated research and involvement with the Italian community on Long Island made him a leading, well-respected authority on this field of scholarship.
In 1966, Salvatore was one of a small group of scholars who met at LaGuardia Memorial House in New York City to found the American Italian Historical Association, an organization which helped lay the groundwork for the interdisciplinary field of Italian American Studies. Salvatore served the association in many capacities, including as president, vice president, member of the executive council, editor of the proceedings of the annual conference, and founder of the association’s local Long Island Regional Chapter. Salvatore also worked closely with national organizations, including the National Italian American Foundation and the Commission for Social Justice of the Order Sons of Italy in America, for which he held the position of college liaison. His influence led to the preservation of Italian-American memorabilia and artifacts at archival centers including the Center for Migration Studies in Staten Island and the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
Salvatore has been considered “the preeminent chronicler of the Italian American experience.” He lectured extensively at major American universities and abroad and authored and co-edited numerous books and articles on this subject. An early work, Wop: A Documentary History of Anti Italian Discrimination, was the first authoritative book on discrimination against Italian Americans and is still considered the standard work on the topic. Among the other books he has authored or edited are From Steerage to Suburbs: Long Island Italians; The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia; and The Humble and the Heroic: Wartime Italian Americans. Salvatore described The Humble and the Heroic, a detailed examination of the role Italian Americans played during World War II and winner of the Pietro di Donato/John Fante Literary Award, as a “labor of love,” dedicated to Italian Americans, including many of his own friends, who served in the armed forces during WWII or participated in the war effort at home. As his good friend and fellow historian, Frank Cavaioli, commented, “it is a study from the heart and the mind as he weaves primary source accounts of ordinary and extraordinary people.”
Other works authored by Salvatore include: Vito Marcantonio: The People’s Politician; An Album of the Italian American; The Ethnic Dimension in American Society; The Immigrants Speak: The Italian Americans Tell Their Story; New York at Mid-Century: The Impellitteri Years; Long Island Italians; Hollywood’s Italians: From Periphery to Prominenti; The Great Earthquake: America Comes to Messina’s Rescue; and The Office of Strategic Services and Italian Americans.
In 2015, Salvatore visited Sicily and returned to his parent’s hometown of Pioppo, a small town outside of Palermo, where he met his first cousins who still lived there. He published his final book, The Office of Strategic Services and Italian Americans, in 2016. Through the end of his life, Salvatore continued to research, write, and tell the stories of his heritage.
Salvatore was a devout Catholic, loving husband, and devoted father and grandfather. He was predeceased by his parents, Giacomo and Maria, his brother, Joseph, and his sister, Madeline. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Juliana Heath; his children Francis (Paulette), Mary (Peter), John (Francesca), and Christine (John); and his grandchildren Stephanie (Jorge), Maria Teresa, Giuliana, Caroline, Michael, Paul, Francis, Nicholas, Talia, Gianna, Tyler, Joseph and Brooke.
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