John L. Lewis (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
During the coal miners’ strike in the winter of 1978, a reporter interviewed a retired miner, who said in effect, “It would not have happened while John L. Lewis was president. He would never have allowed the men to reject a contract he negotiated.” In its way, that statement says more about Lewis than more conventional characterizations, which however, may still be necessary for the generation that did not know Lewis. John L. Lewis belongs to the top ranks of any list of leading figures in American labor history; and in his day, he was always in the very top ranks of best-loved and most-hated public figures.
Dubofsky and Van Tine have done thorough research, which took them to the archives of both government and labor bodies, to the manuscript census reports (for Lewis’ family), to private papers, oral history reports (which they find of limited value), and the contemporary press. The nature of these materials is important, because it very largely determines the nature of the biography. Lewis left little in the way of family and personal papers, and even much official union business apparently is unrecorded. Careful biographers of a figure such as Lewis are therefore limited in what they can say about their subject’s private life, about his motives, and even about some of his maneuvers. Gaps must be filled by speculation, but this is kept to a minimum, and when it is indulged in, it is labeled as such. Dubofsky and Van Tine also spend...
(The entire section is 1969 words.)
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