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Back to Ludlow: a massacre revisited

Catching up on my reading over the weekend, I found that the January 19 New Yorker has a terrific piece by Caleb Crain discussing the emergence of new, revisionist accounts of the Ludlow Massacre. "There Was Blood" delves into the bloody conflicts in the southern Colorado coalfields a century ago that culminated in the 1914 deaths of nineteen people -- striking miners, wives and a dozen children -- in an attack on their camp by the Colorado National Guard.

Crain's launching point is a new study by Thomas G. Andrews, Killing For Coal, that examines the massacre in the context of America's unslakable thirst for a reliable energy source. But he also delves into other weighty accounts of the matter, from George McGovern's 1972 book to journalist Scott Martelle's 2007 rendering, Blood Passion.

So why all this interest now in a labor dispute that's been largely buried in myth for almost a century?

Crain makes several points about why Ludlow is still important. It wasn't just the sheer fatalities involved but the political fallout that made it one of the most significant clashes between labor and capital in American history; public outrage, federal intervention and other forces combined to loosen Big Coal's grip on its workers for good.

The essay is well worth reading. I only wish Crain had mentioned a couple of other important takes on Ludlow -- Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check, which deals savagely with the state's widespread corruption and ignominous press, and Colorado College professor David Mason's "verse novel" Ludlow, the subject of my previous blog "A Bold Light on Dark History."

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