Remembering the “White City”

 

Today’s edition of the Denver Post contains an op-ed piece I wrote about the work we’re doing here in Colorado to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Great Coalfield Strike of 1913-1914, especially the Ludlow Massacre. I’ve blogged about this historical event a few times before (most recently here), focusing on its lessons for building community in today’s increasingly multicultural society.  Happily, the contemporary relevance of the Strike was the Post’s primary interest when I inquired if the paper would publish a Labor Day weekend article about our work.

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Here’s the section of the op-ed that dovetails with my interest in urban anthropology:

The Ludlow story even has implications for urban planning and governance, especially as it concerns the growing multiculturalism of American communities.   Two dozen languages were spoken in Ludlow’s “White City”, a description of the striker’s camp that likened its canvas tents to the gleaming stucco facades of Daniel Burnham’s neoclassical buildings at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (and that served as inspiration for the design of Denver’s Civic Center Park).   How did the Ludlow strikers overcome their cultural differences to maintain a long strike in a makeshift community on a desolate piece of prairie under conditions of serious economic deprivation through one of the worst winters in Colorado history?  What shared values and identities allowed Ludlow’s diverse immigrant population to re-build their community after it was devastated on April 20, 1914?  Does Ludlow teach us anything about how to create and manage an inclusive, intercultural city?

I hadn’t been aware of the connection that the striking miners drew between Ludlow’s Tent City and Chicago’s White City until I read Thomas Andrews’ fine book about the Coalfield Strike, Killing for Coal.  Tom is one of my colleagues on the Ludlow Centennial Commemoration Commission.  Evidence that the term was used to describe the  striker tent colonies is found in oral interviews preserved by the Huerfano County Ethno-History Project (e.g., here).

The connection between the gritty tent city and the gleaming tourist city is certainly loose. However, it’s a useful entry point for discussing several aspects of the contemporary urban condition that currently bedevil us.  As I note in the last paragraph of my Post piece, in making the tie between past and present we’re limited only by our imagination.

 

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