WFHB’s Interchange – Undermining Zinctown: The Feminist Socialism of Salt of the Earth

AUDIO: Undermining Zinctown

We open with music composed by Sol Kaplan for the film Salt of the Earth. Kaplan was blacklisted in the 1950s for being “uncooperative” to HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The rest of our music will feature the work of other blacklisted artists and performers; Hazel Scott, Yip Harburg, Marc Blitzstein, and Lena Horne.

Salt of the Earth is based on an actual strike in 1951 against the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico. The film deals with the prejudice against the Mexican American workers, who struck to attain wage parity with Anglo workers in other mines and to be treated with dignity by the bosses.

This film was directed by Herbert J

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. Biberman, one of the original “Hollywood Ten,” who was blacklisted due to alleged involvement in Communist politics and for refusing to answer Congressional inquiries on First Amendment grounds. The film’s writer and producer, Michael Wilson and Paul Jarrico, had also been blacklisted.

This is one of the first pictures to advance the feminist social and political point of view. In many ways it seems ahead of its time in these terms, until we remember that feminism in the US might be said to predate even the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls as its history is tied to Native American rights and abolitionism.

Because Salt of the Earth was produced in response to the course of US culture and politics both pre- and post-WWII, we’ll begin with a look at the US as its discourse and instructions to the public imaginary comes out of the so-called “Red Scare” and eventuates in the disgraceful period presided over by HUAC and the likes of opportunist politicians Richard Nixon and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Joan Hawkins is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the IU Media School and a member of The Writers Guild at Bloomington and The Burroughs Century. She has written extensively on experimental and avant-garde cultures.

Salt of the Earth: Made of labour, by labour, for labour
The Bluff of the Century: Nixon, Alger Hiss, and the Cold War

“Free and Equal Blues” performed by Josh White, written by Yip Harburg.
Yip Harburg was an American popular song lyricist who wrote the lyrics to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” as well as all of the songs in The Wizard of Oz. Though not a Communist, he was a member of the Socialist Party and was named as “un-American” in a pamphlet called Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television; and subsequently blocked from working in Hollywood films, television, and radio for twelve years, from 1950 to 1962.

“Joe Worker” from the 1937 play in music The Cradle Will Rock, by Marc Blitzstein. It’s performed by Micki Grant. In 1958, Blitzstein, who was openly gay, appeared before HUAC under subpoena. In a closed session, Blitzstein admitted his membership in the Communist Party (ending in 1949) but refused to name names or cooperate any further.

“Git Up From There” by Hazel Scott. Hazel Scott was a Trinidadian-born jazz and classical pianist who, In 1950, became the first black person to have a TV show, The Hazel Scott Show. After testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Scott subsequently moved to Paris in the late 1950s and performed in France, not returning to the United States until 1967.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” performed by Lena Horne. Horne was an African American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist also blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer, and it probably didn’t help that she was a good friend of Paul Robeson.

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer: Rob Schoon
Executive Producer: Wes Martin

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