Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West
Caleb Crain, in The New Yorker
"We must welcome this carefully-researched study of one of the most dramatic, violent, and important episodes in the history of labor struggles in this country."
-Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
"Blood Passion is the definitive account o≠f a major landmark in the American struggle for social justice. And the way Scott Martelle tells the st≠ory is splendid proof that history can both be written as vividly as a nove≠l and also be documented with scrupulous care."
-Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves
How Blood Passion came about
Curiosity drove me deeper into the history, with loose plans to write a magazine article on the Colorado Coal Field War Project, an archeological exploration of the Ludlow colony and the nearby Berwind mining camp. Led by Dean Saitta of the University of Denver, Philip Duke of Fort Lewis College in Durango, and Randall McGuire of the State University of New York at Binghamton, the 1999-2000 project was the first to treat the site as a place of archeological inquiry, trying to determine what life was like for the miners both before and during the strike. But it quickly became apparent to me that there was more material here than I could shoe-horn into a magazine piece. Blood Passion is the result.
Although Blood Passion explores the violent trajectory of a labor strike, it is not a work of labor history. Rather, it is a journalist's look back at a story of oppression and rebellion, of ordinary people revolting under a corrupt local political system, and of immigrants who discovered that if they wanted a piece of the American Dream they had better be ready to fight for it. A union helped them in that battle, and is an integral part of that history, but this book is about the combatants and the battles themselves.
From this country's earliest days, we have wrestled with the conflicting concepts of respecting our government and rebelling against it. Blood Passion is an attempt to knock some of the dust off this long-forgotten yet hugely emblematic moment in American history.
-- Scott Martelle
The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial
I got launched on the project because I found the story fascinating, and relatively unexplored outside the realm of Cold War historians. I also found parallels to the USA Patriot Act, in that it and the Smith Act were enacted out of fear of the outside. It's a perverse phenomenon that in times of national crisis, the U.S. tends to undercut the principals it professes to be fighting to preserve -- in this case, freedom of speech and assembly, among others.
The 11 convictions were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court just after the Korean War broke out. But a change in the makeup of the court, and a lessening of the Red Scare passions, led the court six years later to effectively reverse itself and gut the Smith Act. But by then the men had each served five-year sentences (some more for going on the lam; some less for good behavior).
It's a fascinating story, complete with spies, riots, legal chicanery and intriguing characters.
The trailer, put together by Kathy Price-Robinson.
For teachers and reading groups:
If you're interested in having me discuss Blood Passion with your students or reading group, email me at scott (AT) scottmartelle.com. I'm available for such talks via Skype, which is a wonderful tool for this sort of thing.