AT Cole


My exposure to the salt of the earth story is purely vicarious. I moved from Arizona where I practiced law for 32 years. I moved to Southern New Mexico in 2005. I attended the 50 year anniversary celebration of the salt of the earth and it was very interesting. There were a number of Bayard citizens who had been children during the strike who spoke at the conference telling their stories. I was really stunned by the presentation by Clinton Jenks when he took the stage at 80 years of age.

I was really puzzled by his presence at first during this event because I didn’t know who this old guy was. But what I remember so distinctly was Clinton Jencks’s point about consciousness raising. What I already knew about my reading in feminist literature about consciousness raising among women leaders was very reflective of what I heard Clinton Jencks was saying at that moment. Jencks’s insights about consciousness raising still resonate with me today. I have kind of romanticized Jencks since that moment. I knew nothing about the empire mine strike before then but from that moment on I have been very interested in his story and the salt of the earth.

I later learned that Clinton Jenks was involved in protecting the local citizens in the mining district. He was in an exchange with the sheriff at the time. Jencks got knocked down in a one-punch fight once. I was especially interested in learning that Jencks stood up to local law enforcement officers on behalf of the Mexicano community in the mining district. Bartley McDonnald was the grant county Sheriff before the empire mine strike incident. That one punch fight was precursor to the strike itself in many respects.

The next thing that struck and moved me. Any lawyer that knows criminal law and understands three things: first, the famous Miranda case and the right to remain silent; second, the Brady case that all exculpatory evidence must be disclosed; third, the Jencks case that was followed by the Jencks act. Here’s that back story to that.

Clinton Jenks was blackballed and became a professor getting his doctorate in economics. So Jenks has a second life after the empire mine strike. But before then he was charged as a communist sympathizer in Texas after the strike.

The case against Jenks became case law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled and reversed the decision against Jenks. If you are accused in a criminal case you have a right now after the Jenks case to have a copy of any statements against you. Then Congress passed the Jenks Act.

So it’s really important. Jenks and the Empire zinc mine strike had not only local impact and import but national from my point of view as an attorney.

My next take away from the Empire Zinc mine case is related to my interest in environmental issues and restoration. My wife and I have been involved in restoring a cienega in Southern New Mexico. I think we all need to be cultivating climate gardens like after WWII victory gardens. In short, I think that the key to solving global climates crises are grassroots efforts like the growth of climate gardens and the victory gardens after WWII. The empire zinc mine like the historical victory gardens is what is most compelling about history.

The voice of the streets is epitomized by the women of the empire zinc mine strike. Jenks told the story of a woman at the strike line knitting on the sidelines and just stood up and joined the picket line.

The way things get changed is the people taking to the street and taking up the issues of the day.

As a relative newcomer I am still puzzled that the iconic image of Silver City is Billy the Kidd a known thief and murderer. But I think the most important event in the history of Grant County was the Empire zinc mine strike and the film Salt of the Earth. The local community of Silver City and Bayard could frankly lead with that as part of tourist attraction to this area. This was the most significant cultural event in the history of Grant County.

I write about restoration as a side interest of mine. I am working on a book manuscript about the restoration of habitat both built environments and natural environments. I am writing a chapter about the salt of the earth and the empire zinc mine strike. So I have some sustained interest in this place. I have a stake in this story from the point of view of restoration. I think restoring the building and its place in the community for the use by the local citizens is in the spirit of the empire mine strike and the history of the region.

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