Friday, March 25, 2011

Christina Pacosz on the Missouri Leadbelt Riot of 1917

Striking Workers, Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Source

Christina Pacosz, poet. Source.

In 1897, in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, striking Bohunk and German coal miners were killed in what has become known as the Lattimer Massacre.

In 1914, in Ludlow, Colorado, coal miners, many immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, were massacred.

In 1927 striking coal miners were attacked with machine guns in Columbine, Colorado. Flaming Mika, a Croatian teenager, was a strike leader.

It's interesting to read web-based commemorations of these events, and others like them. Many such webpages are maintained by leftists.

I salute leftists for working to keep alive history that is otherwise buried and ignored. I ask, semester after semester, if any of my students are aware of this history. They are not. When I tell them that American troops fired on American workers, their jaws drop and their eyes get large.

Unfortunately, though, the leftists who commemorate these events often work hard to obscure the ethnic identity of the striking workers. Those who struck, who lead the strikes, who were shot, who were wounded and killed, are all "workers."

In fact, though, those who struck, who lead the strikes, and who were shot and killed were disproportionately immigrants or children of immigrants, and largely Bohunk. Those who shot and killed them knew this.

Leftists, for their own ideological reasons, often work to obscure this historical reality: "white" Bohunks were identified by contemporary science as racially inferior. (In the same way, the Soviet Union, when it had control of Auschwitz, identified the bulk of its victims, not as Jews, but as "enemies of fascism." You'd never know, from many Soviet treatments of the Holocaust, that the Nazis had an agenda of scientific racism. In its heyday, scientific racism was embraced by the left as well as the right.)

The scientific racism, widely accepted one hundred years ago, that identified Bohunks as racial inferiors, certainly informed those who abused them in the workplace, and shot, and killed them when they asked for better work conditions.

During the 1915-16 Bayonne, New Jersey, refinery strikes, Standard Oil's manager announced, "I want to march up East 22nd street through the guts of Polaks." He didn't just want to march through the guts of workers. He wanted to march through the guts of *Polak* workers.

In describing the murderous suppression Andrew Carnegie and his fellow industrialist, Henry Clay Frick, visited on strikers, Carnegie's biographer wrote, "Frick had ... been unfortunate in the type of workmen with whom he had previously dealt. The Hungarians, Slavs, and Southern Europeans of Connellsville were a savage and undisciplined horde, with whom strong-arm methods seemed at times indispensable."

Most Polish Americans have no idea that their grandparents and great-grandparents were identified by the New York Times, the canonical anthropological publications, the Museum of Natural History, and the US Congress as racially inferior. Most Polish Americans have never heard of the Lattimer Massacre.

Me? I'd never heard of the Lead Belt Riot until poet Christina Pacosz introduced me to it. And I study this stuff. Amazing how busy and effective those who erase history can be.


In her essay, "A Great Deal of Doing: The Missouri Leadbelt Riot of 1917," poet Christina Pacosz describes the riot that drove her Polish father, and others like him, out of the lead-mining region of Missouri.

Poles and other Bohunks arrived in Missouri to mine lead. Lead was needed for World War I. The locals did not like the "noisy and aggressive Hunkie," as Missouri's state historian described them. And, so, the locals rose up and drove the Bohunks out, including Pacosz's father, who

"vividly remembered mattresses stuffed into windows, all the children huddling in a dark, stuffy room. The emotional trauma of a small, scared boy is what my father recounted on those muggy, mosquito-filled summer nights we rocked together on our front porch in Detroit's Polish ghetto."

Pacosz's recounting of this forgotten history is priceless. Her Beat-inspired prose is grittily beautiful and yet highly detailed. This is poetry, and this is history.

Pacosz is not just a poet, not just an historian. She is also, unavoidably, a moralist. Given the skill of her pen, Pacosz is potentially a hanging judge – at least metaphorically. Should the modern-day descendents of those who terrorized, dispossessed and exiled her Polish immigrant father and grandfather be condemned? "I wonder if these people had any relatives who wore white sheets and terrorized my father?" she asks.

Pacosz's generosity is as abundant as her talent. Her rich heart and insight into the multifarious causes of ethnic violence that pits one worker against another inspire her to conclude, "There is no one here I can be angry with."

Lewis Hine. Breaker Boys. My father could have been in this photo.

Me? I am angry.

My angry words here are all mine, and they are not related to Ms. Pacosz's generous essay.

I'm angry at modern day, politically correct Missourians who piously adopt the same lies that their racist ancestors adopted to lynch my people. Nowadays their ropes are words.

My old Peace Corps buddy, Missourian Maggie Finefrock, from Kansas City, sent me a book that her colleague, Bill Tammeus, also located in Kansas City, had written.

In that book, published by the very politically correct University of Missouri Press, very politically correct Bill Tammeus distorts history, invests in stereotypes, and ultimately tempts readers to hate Poles.

Poles were brutes to the Missourians of the Lead Belt Riot who drove us out with violence and hate. Poles deserved to be violently driven out of their homes, driven out with "guns, knives, and hatchets," because they were "noisy and aggressive."

That racism, over one hundred years old, is not dead.

To the elite, Poles are still brutes, and they still deserve to be blamed and scapegoated and treated as inferior. Books like Tammeus' lynch with words.

Again, the anger here is all mine, and is not related to Christina Pacosz's essay.


Please acquire and read Christina Pacosz's essay. Nothing else I've read about Poles in America could take its place.

"A Great Deal of Doing: The Missouri Leadbelt Riot of 1917."

By Christina Pacosz

John Brown Press
PO Box 5224
Kansas City, Kansas 66119


  1. Thank you, Dr. Goska, for spreading the word about the history of the Missouri Lead Belt Riot of 1917. My whole focus on bringing this practically unknown history forward is to make the events that occurred in Leadwood, Missouri in the summer of 1917 more common knowledge among Polish-Americans and historians, especially historians in Missouri and academic historians across the U.S. The history needs a new fresh look since all extant works are out of print and out of date, too. If people request a copy of my essay, I hope they will include a check for $2.00 please, to help defray printing and mailing cost. Thank you!! Christina Pacosz

  2. I can remember, when I was much younger, reading Jean Webster's popular book, Daddy Longlegs, about a girl who is rescued from a harsh orphanage by an anonymous weathy benefactor. I was too young at the time to be overly concerned about the unsalubrious sub-text: the the benefactor, masquerading as a friend, meets, courts and untimately marries his protege. I accepted the book as it was presented by the author: an innocent romance, and I enjoyed it. I then picked up the sequel, Dear Enemy, in which a friend of the heroine goes back to the orphanage to run it in a more humane way. In the course of the book, both the damaged child of alcoholic parents, and a deaf child, are called 'defectives.' They are deemed unsuitable for a place such as this orphanage which doesn't 'deal' with 'defectives' and the opinion is expressed - as an opinion to be supported - that such children should be allowed to die. It reminds me, thinking of it now, how widespread the concept of eugenics was between the wars, and how quickly it was disowned when the Nazis took these doctrines to their logical conclusion. We disown it, but we never, I think, learned the lessons from it.

  3. I really hope that people take Christina Pacosz up on her offer to send the Leadville riot essay out to anyone who sends her two dollars. It is a priceless essay, about an event you won't read about from any other sources, chances are.

  4. Danuta JR, I love your mind, and I'm honored that you are reading and posting on my blog.

    When I was a child, I had two (at least) big questions: why were my parents' immigration experiences so horrific? why did people see fit to lynch one of my family members? Why couldn't my mother, a brilliant woman and a brilliant writer, get any work other than in factories and cleaning houses?

    The other question, typical of children of my post-war generation, how the heck did the Holocaust happen? How could people do anything like that?

    I did not find the answers to these two questions in schools. I went in search of the answers to both questions, and realized that their roots are the same: Scientific Racism, developed to demonize immigrants like my parents, and brought to their logical culmination in places like Auschwitz.

    A very good author on this topic: Richard Weikart, specifically his book "Hitler's Ethic."

  5. Yeah, talking about some history!
    This will be the times where legends reign.

  6. "That racism, over one hundred years old, is not dead.

    To the elite, Poles are still brutes, and they still deserve to be blamed and scapegoated and treated as inferior."

    Have you ever actually BEEN to the Lead Belt? Have you ever actually talked to anybody from here re: their views of Poles? There's no denying that the Mine Riot of 1917 was a tragic occurrence, and there's also no denying that nativist/anti-immigrant sentiment was a part of it. But you shouldn't go assuming that present-day residents of the Lead Belt are anti-Pole because their ancestors were 100 years ago. Would it be fair to characterize present-day Germans as largely anti-Semitic because--again, tragically--many of their ancestors were 100 years ago (and less)? For my own part, I think not.

  7. I am writing a story about the 100th anniversary of these riots for the public TV station in Kansas City and looking for descendants of the deportees who will speak with me.
    Mike McGraw

  8. I am looking for descendants of deportees to interview for a story for Kansas City Public TV about the 100th anniversary of the riots

    1. Mike did write a very good article. Here's the link: It appeared in the August issue. Some of the difficulty about getting this story out is that many people don't seem willing to speak about what happened to them or their families even a hundred years later. That's how traumatic these events were for those who suffered.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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