American Studies •  Film •  History and Southwest

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The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in the American Cold War

James Lorence

This impassioned history tells a story of censorship and politics during the early Cold War. The author recounts the 1950 Empire Zinc Strike in Bayard, New Mexico, the making of the extraordinary motion picture Salt of the Earth by Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, and the film's suppression by Hollywood, federal and state governments, and organized labor. This disturbing episode reflects the intense fear that gripped America during the Cold War and reveals the unsavory side of the rapprochement between organized labor and big business in the 1950s. In the face of intense political opposition, blackballed union activists, blacklisted Hollywood artists and writers, and Local 890 united to write a script, raise money, hire actors and crews, and make and distribute the film. Rediscovered in the 1970s, Salt of the Earth is a revealing celluloid document of socially conscious unionism that sought to break down racial barriers, bridge class divisions, and emphasize the role of women. Lorence has interviewed participants in the strike and film such as Clinton Jencks and Paul Jarrico and has consulted private and public archives to reconstruct the story of this extraordinary documentary and the coordinated efforts to suppress it.


James J. Lorence (1937-2012) was professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin, Marathon County.


"In this strongly argued book . . . Lorence demonstrates the vitality of the . . . link between labor and the intellectual community. His well-told story deepens our understanding of Cold War America."


The Journal of American History

" . . . an interesting new work about one of the most important American 'labor' films . . . . Lorence's greatest contribution is providing historians and cinema scholars with an excellent example of how to historicize film."


Southern California Quarterly

"Lorence's riveting, scrupulously documented history is a pertinent addition to all academic and public collections."



"This book is an important contribution to the history of film, the blacklist, civil rights, and the postwar labor movement."


American Historical Review

"James J. Lorence tells the story of the making and suppresion of Salt of the Earth with great detail and passion. . . . Salt of the Earth is an amazing film. See the movie. Read the book."


Labor Studies Journal

6 x 9 in. 296 pages 34 halftones, 1 maps