Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bay View Massacre

You can see National Guardsmen ready to fire on Polish workers. Source.

A Reenactment of the Bay View Massacre. Source: Nickolas Nikolic's blog. 
University of Wisconsin scholar James P. Leary's is an Irish American who is a very good friend to Polonia.

I recently shared with him a link to a previous post about Christina Pacosz's essay on the Missouri Leadbelt riot that drove Polish immigrants out of the lead mining region of Missouri.

Jim responded by introducing me to the Wisconsin Bay View Massacre.

On Saturday, May 1, 1886, Polish-American workers and others demanded an eight-hour day. Under orders, National Guardsmen shot to kill. Kill they did.

It's interesting to me that before Jim introduced me to it, I've never heard of the Bay View Massacre. Before reading Christina Pacosz's excellent essay, I'd never heard of the Leadbelt Riot.

Of course I was not taught about any of these events in school. Polish American and other Bohunk workers never played any role in my formal education. Sure, we read "The Jungle." We read it for the gross-out scenes of rats pooping in sausage, not for its vivid and accurate picture of the life of Jurgis Rudkus, one Bohunk worker very like my own ancestors, and probably very like your ancestors, as well.

But it's interesting that in all the many internet facebook and online discussion posts by and about Polish Americans I've read, I'd never heard of the Bay View Massacre.

I wonder if that is because Polonia tends to prefer heroes on horseback to Bohunks on picket lines? I'm just asking. Or maybe we tend to be so anti-Communist that we don't want to acknowledge how large a role our people played in labor organizing, and how labor organizing helped our ancestors to survive. Again, I'm just asking. You tell me.

Milwaukee County's detailed account of the Massacre is here.

Nickolas Nikolic's blog post dedicated to the massacre is here. Nickolas' blog post includes a wonderful slide show depicting a reenactment of the protest and the massacre.

The Wikipedia page on the Bay View Massacre is here.


  1. I have actually been to Bay View Wisconsin many years ago when I first went to visit my sister Doreen who lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I remember how beautiful an area it is and also the comment from a gallery owner that the locals hate tree huggers or some such. I could imagine. Thanks for the link to James P. Leary's information about the Bayview Massacre. I wish someone would do a Wikipedia page on the Leadbelt Riot of 1917 where as far as I can determine no one actually died but still a momentous event for the Bohunk community involved. The State militia - then the National Guard - was called out to stop the rioters which is how my father's family was able to finally flee the area. Christina Pacosz

  2. Christina, I am honored by your visit and your comment. thank you.

  3. Thank you for bringing back to the living the piece of disappeared history.

    Consistent with the history of Poland -- assaulted on the left and the right by the right and the left -- and thus variously vilified for their distrust of, and disgust with, either -- (hence, a deep belief in sin, and also giving the tendency to individualism) -- Slavophobes of the right or left variety use history, and also its absence, to promote their own 54 flavors of Slavophobia.

    The absence of history that you noted above is in great measure the result of the Slavophobic educational establishment.

    My kid comes home with a handout titled "The History of Western Europe". So I ask if there is/was one for Eastern Europe, and of course -- of course -- there is not. This thing is systematic.
    This is telling as the teachers (oh, the teachers) know they are leaving out Eastern Europe, when they specify it as Western European history, and by inference, Eastern European history is below talking about.
    So much of this disappearing of Slavs and their history is conscious, and that ultimate nothingness is essential in constructing the blank screen of the psyche upon which the Slavophobe theme of the moment may be played on, with no interference from reality -- a bit like the Matrix.

    Or there is a course on artists -- they are all nonwhite minorities, or the Nordic group dominant in that school system.

    Poles like heroes on horseback because those are the ones they are allowed to have. It's a cultivated and acquired taste, sort of like scotch. Remember, Bieganski is bought mostly by academic libraries, not public ones. It's not a random phenomenon. You might quantitate this by comparing on World Cat the academic/public ratio for other groups' literature.

    A telling comment is found in one of Jill ker Conway's books (True North?) where one of her academic colleagues describes history like the above as "loser's history". (This was in a discussion of hiring a professor to teach various minority histories by the way. Guess who didn't get hired. .) So we know how they will, and do regard us, and what cultural capital has positive versus negative value.

    While some Slavs, as a result of the brainwashing of propaganda, and the brainwashing of cultural absence, do carry internalized Slavophobia, your discussion above, failing to name and polarize Slavophobia, and its sources, tends to name and blame the victims rather than name and blame the perps.

    ie, "because Polonia tends to prefer heroes on horseback to Bohunks on picket lines? ..Or maybe we tend to be so anti-Communist that we don't want to acknowledge"

    People will say the words "antiSemitism". They have a hard time saying with equal facility "Slavophobia". It's a cultivated and acquired taste.


  4. Dear Danusha,

    Since you asked..I think the lack of coverage of the role of Bohunks in these labor and civil rights actions can be attributed to both your and Nemo's ideas. I had never heard of either event before seeing them here. I've seen Solidarnosc twisted into an insult to Poles'inconsistency in the anti-Communist movement, because it was a labor union. On Nemo’s front I’d say there is a tendency to give ownership of civil rights actions to more popular groups. In that narrative Bohunks have to be just followers and cannon fodder.

  5. Hello, Danusha.

    I just wanted to let you know that I saw the comment you posted under my review of "To Begin Where I Am." Of course I remember you! In fact, I often check your blog (great work, by the wat). Many thanks for letting me know about your upcoming post. Looking forward to it with much anticipation . . .


    Liron Rubin (LR on Amazon)

  6. LR, thanks. I'm grateful to hear that you will have a look. The post will be up sometime within the week. I know it might be controversial, but I've given it a lot of thought, and I think it says things that need to be said.


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