The Guns of Lattimer
On September 10, 1897, in the hamlet of Lattimer mines, Pennsylvania, an armed posse took aim and fired into a crowd of oncoming mine workers, who were marching in their corner of the coal-mining region to call their fellow miners out on strike. The marchers Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, most of whom could not yet speak English were themselves armed only with an American flag and a timid, budding confidence in their new found rights as free men in their newly adopted country. The mine operators took another view of these rights and of the strange, alien men who claimed them. When the posse was done firing, nineteen of the demonstrators were dead and thirty-nine were seriously wounded. Some six months later a jury of their peers was to exonerate the deputies of any wrong-doing.
This long-forgotten incident is here movingly retold by Michael Novak, himself the son of Slovak immigrants and one of our most gifted writers and social observers. In his hands, the so-called "Lattimer Massacre" becomes not only a powerful story in its own right (and an invaluable key to the history of the growth of the united mine Workers), but an allegory of that peculiarly American experience undergone over and over again throughout the land, and down to this very day; the experience of new immigrants, still miserable with poverty and bewilderment and suffering the trauma of culture shock, being confronted by the hostility and blind contempt of the "real" Americans.
In Michael Novak's uniquely vivid account, the incident at Lattimer is seen as a tragedy brought on not so much by inhumanity as by the profound failure of majority WASP society to understand the needs and responses of "foreigners." The Guns of Lattimer is a gripping book that tells Americans, old and new, a great deal about themselves and the society they live in.
"This is an excellent book. It is a valuable study of the sufferings of ethnic minorities when the heat was on full blast under the American melting pot."
—George McKenna, The Review of Politics
"The Guns of Lattimer is a minor classic, a solid contribution to American history and well worth reading. Novak has accomplished what he set out to do. . . . It is no small achievement."
—Thomas R. Brooks, The New Republic
"A paen to the millions of Slavic immigrants who lived and endured in America."
"[Novak] provides, in this book, a contribution of great value to the study of the localized ethnic experience and also to the examination of labor-management relations in the United States. . . . Novak's solid and highly readable account of a sad episode . . . certainly deserves a wide reading on the part of the academic and general reading public."
—Norman Lederer, Sociology
"The Guns of Lattimer is in fact a powerful indictment of a dominant group's prejudice against a minority of foreigners who were industrious, law-abiding, and prepared to adhere to democratic norms. . . . [Novak] is sensitive to the complexities of human character and to the moral ambiguities dictated by class and ethnicity."
—Arch Puddington, Commentary
"The Guns of Lattimer is a mirror into which Americans can look and see a great deal about themselves and their society from the safety of history and an artistically written historical novel that allows one to identify with both sides. . . . This is a book of Christian conscience well worth the time and the price."
—Ruth Ann Moran, The Disciple
"Superb social commentary."
"A labor of love, indeed."
—Christopher Manion, Chronicles of Culture
"A grand saga . . . . tragic, horrifying and forever memorable to any human conscience in its substance, yes, but done with such extraordinary discipline of thought and writing that The Guns of Lattimer becomes not just an historical but a literary work of the first magnitude."
—Robert A. Nisbet
“A meticulous portrait. . . . believable and compelling.”
—James A. Michener
"Michael Novak's The Guns of Lattimer is an important and moving contribution to ethnic and labor history. It should be read by all those interested in how the 'blood, sweat, and tears' of American immigrant workers enlarged the meaning of democracy."
—Seymour Martin Lipset
"Michael Novak has restored the Lattimer Massacre as one of the tragic moments of American history along with Harper's Ferry and Kent State. Long forgotten, this wanton killing of twenty Slavic miners and the wounding of many more becomes in Novak's telling a gripping account of ethnic and labor conflict."
—Rudolph J. Vecoli, Director, Immigration History Research Center
"The Guns of Lattimer . . . may well be his (Novak's) best book of the 70's. . . . [H]is prose is often white-hot. The book is intense, evocative, searing. It is also a striking piece of historical detective work. . . . [I]t is a book that makes a noteworthy contribution to American social history."
—Richard W. Fox, Yale University