There is a historic preservation movement now underway all across Greek America. There is no central authority directing or organizing its progress. No lone academic crusader or collection of ardent scholars is/are monitoring or documenting its movements.
Sadly, there is not even much news coverage found in the Greek or Greek-American press about this unprecedented and ever growing social phenomenon. True, individual preservation efforts are being featured in the
Greek-American press. But that’s not the point. There is a nationwide movement coming directly out of the Greek-American experience itself. It is the recognition that an organic collective movement exists that is missing from our attention. It is no exaggeration to say that as each day passes more and more individuals, collectives, and communities are becoming involved with the process of preserving Greek-American history, culture, and experiences.
These efforts take on any number of forms: the establishment of church and/or local community archives, launching new websites, depositing personal and collective photographs, manuscripts, the identification and gathering of historical objects, the deposit of newspaper accounts and other documents in local community historical societies and other archives outside the Greek community itself but within the American community in which the depositors live, public programing of a wide array of Greek music, cooking, and other events, the establishment of historical sites, the placement of historical plaques, the registering of buildings and other places onto the local and national historical registers, the opening museum exhibitions to the general public, the publishing of quite literally a flood of personal and community based memoirs, radio programs on the
Greek-American experience with oral histories, and various other kinds of collective public expressions.
That all of this activity is being undertaken by Greek Americans within their home communities makes these efforts all the more relevant. In modern social science studies the goal is always to discover “the native point of view.” This phrase means that the core beliefs and values of the group under study, as members of that group understand them, are identified.
What follows will be a survey of some of the latest actions and activities in this new preservation movement. Given that these events are deeply embedded in local Greek-American histories some back ground discussion is mandatory.
The Coal Field Wars of 1913-1914, as they were later called, between laborers and the Robber Barons spanned these two years. This ongoing dispute came to a head on Orthodox Easter Sunday, April 20, 1914. On that day the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of 1,200 coal mine strikers and their families. The tent colony was then set on fire as the Colorado National Guard fired machine guns and rifle fire into the camp. Around 7 p.m., Louis Tikas the labor leader of this colony was killed by Lieutenant Karl Linderfelt. The next day it was discovered that two women and eleven children who had huddled within a pit dug below their tent had died of asphyxiation. The dead included five other strikers, two other youngsters, and at least four men associated with the militia.
Violence between miners and mine company thugs continued throughout Colorado and northern New Mexico for the next ten days. This period has become known as the Ten Day War. In late April, federal troops moved into southern Colorado, almost immediately restoring peace. The strike, however, continued through early December, finally coming to an end without resolution.
In 1918, the United Mine Workers of America erected a memorial at the site of the Ludlow tent colony to honor the massacre victims. Finding this monument is something of a challenge since it is located in a remote southern Colorado prairie. This huge granite monument is founded on County Road 44, about 1.5 km west of Interstate 25, in Las Animas county Colorado. In true robber baron style after this infamous tragedy the Rockefeller family had the town of Ludlow (which they owned) razed. No physical remains of this once sizable town now exist. Despite this massive effort to “disappear” this event from history, the Ludlow Massacre is ever-fresh in the minds and hearts of individuals around the nation.
In early April of last year, a delegation of Southern Colorado mayors, county commissioners, historians and others assembled in Denver to show their support for a gubernatorial proclamation which dubbed April 20, 2013 to April 20, 2014, the Year of the Ludlow Massacre Centennial. It should be pointed out that the Ludlow Massacre Monument is now listed as a National Historic landmark.
As part of this cycle of statewide events on April 20, 1914 the Greek communities of Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Trinidad and elsewhere will be visiting the Ludlow Monument. The exact sequence of events is as yet to be finalized. For the moment, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver and a number of priests are scheduled to celebrate an Agape Service at Ludlow, CO. Given the expected large turnout of Greeks and others to this event (and the fact that it will be Orthodox Easter) adds to the tentative nature of the plans, at this moment in time.
In Lynne S. Brown’s history of the city of Gulfport, FL we hear one version of the much neglected Sponge Wars “which did not really begin until the 1905 incursion of immigrant Greek divers. These so-called wars represent a series of events, not always considered important enough to mention in many histories, but which were in fact a complex and crucial factor in the founding of this and other localities (South Carolina: Arcadia, 1999).” Notice the word incursion and the phrase “not always considered important enough to mention.” Who makes these decisions, I wonder? Remaining within the 1913-1914 era, let us follow one episode of the protracted sponge wars.
“Terrible War Rages on Florida Main; Fleets Sail Out to Loot and Burn” was one day’s account of this ongoing “war” sent across the nation and the world by wire service. Waged between May and June 1914, we read quite clearly in the American press of the day about, ‘’the War of the Sponges” in dozens and dozens of newspapers across the country. Please take notice the language used for the Anglo spongers and then those for the Greeks even when the native-born are the criminals. “The humble American spongers – the ‘conch,’ they are called – are responsible for the piratical acts today. The successful Greek invaders of the sponge fields, under Captain Harry Bell, commodore of the sponge fleet, are the victims (Fort Wayne Sentinel June 15, 1914).” The humble conchs threw dynamite abroad Greek sponge boats because the Greeks were better at harvesting sponges. John Manis, an African American, working with the Greeks, was burned to death abroad one of these ships. Other Greek-owned ships were boarded and burned to the waterline during this episode of the sponge wars.
Within the last couple of weeks the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, due to sustained local efforts, have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. And these are but two of the literally dozens of actions taken by Greek-Americans to preserve the history and experiences of their local community.