Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacreby Helen Zeese Papanikolas
Louis Tikas was a union organizer killed in the battle between striking coal miners and state militia in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914. In "Buried Unsung" he stands for a whole generation of immigrant workers who, in the years before World War I, found themselves caught between the realities of industrial America and their aspirations for a better life.
Meet the Author
Zeese Papanikolas, who lives in California, is the author, with Frank Bergon, of Looking Far West: The Search for the American West in History, Myth and Literature (1978).
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An eclectic book with a big heart that evocatively tells the story of the 1913-14 southern Colorado coal strike that led to the Ludlow Massacre. Zeese Papanikolas uses members of his family as stand-ins as he traces the life of Louis Tikas, A Greek immigrant who became an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America and an important figure in organizing and maintaining the Ludlow tent colony. Tikas was killed at Ludlow by the Colorado National Guard and became a martyr for unionism in the U.S. Papanikolas tells a story that places ethnicity as its center, but he also successfully captures the world of the rapidly industrializing American West. Students will have a difficult time following the story if they don't already know something about the 1913-14 strike. I would recommend pairing this book with Scott Martelle's Blood Passion, which they would read first, to give students a good grounding in what happened before, during, and after the strike.
I was pleased with the book. It provided the content and background on the Ludlow killings and the 1913-14 labor troubles in the southern Colorado coal fields that I was seeking. The rest of the book was an unexpected bonus. The author chronicled those troubled times through his principal character, Louis Tikas, a young, raw Greek immigrant who used his talents in language and interpersonal relationships to rise above the brutally hard labor in the pits. As the harsh conditions and viscous intolerance in the coal fields worsened and labor resistance stiffened, Louis emerged as a union organizer and negotiator, respected by his immigrant Greek peers and despised by coal company executives and their hired guns. The author, a well-educated, Greek American writer, shows a strong sense of comradeship, deep respect, and compassion for his first-generation immigrant countrymen whose dangerous, mindless, and endless physical labor paved the way to a better life in America. In writing the book, the author interviewed participants and researched activists and important players on both sides. He visited the Ludlow Monument, old Greek coffee houses, and vacant lots where once stood buildings in which Louis lived and worked. He visited Louis's home village in Crete; he poured over historical archives, newspaper accounts, union records, and personal correspondence. The author's obsession with knowing Louis Tikas and with giving his life meaning and purpose impacted the book in a positive way. He tells a gripping story of dangerous mines, company 'housing', the company store, 'underweighting' at the tipple, hoodwinked scab workers, and ethnic intolerance. The Rockefeller's wealth, opulence, and privilege by divine edict contrast vividly with the polyglot cultural scene, linguistic diversity, and squalor that defined an early twentieth-century, southern Colorado coal camp. As the story unfolds, the reader can sympathize with the desperate plight of the strikers and recoil at the rattling Gatling gun, the beatings and intimidation, and the tent burnings. We should be thankful that in the intervening years, the tide in America turned toward occupational safety, ethnic and racial tolerance, respect for working men and women, and a decent wage. Tax-and-spend liberals will love this book; compassionate conservatives will ignore it. Those interested in American history, the labor movement, and in just, fair play in America will find the book thought-provoking and thoroughly interesting reading.