DALLAS – On Feb. 19, KERA public radio broadcast its regular afternoon talk show with host Glen Mitchell, but his guests were out of the ordinary. United Farm Workers of America legend Dolores Huerta and filmmaker Eva Bodenstedt were speaking about a very special movie, Salt of the Earth. Quickly, the phones began to ring. Almost all of the callers asked the same question, “How can I see it?”

Americans have been asking how they can view Salt of the Earth since it was completed in 1953. To this day, most of them are still asking. Salt of the Earth has the distinction of being the only movie ever completely banned in America. For more than two decades, hardly anyone saw it except a fortunate few who were invited to private showings of a 16-millimeter version with serious sound defects. In the late 1980s, an excellent video version finally became available. Today, anyone with $35 can order a copy from the AFL-CIO’s Labor Heritage Foundation, 888 16th St. NW, Suite 680, Washington D.C. 20006. Include $3 for postage and handling.

The history lesson that comes with the video is free. The lesson is that any film that extols the virtues of ordinary working people, shows Mexican Americans in a good light, and reveals that women can triumph over all the backwardness and cruelties holding them back is likely to have a hard time with a capitalist system of film production and distribution. In the early 1950s, as the anti-communism disease spread through every aspect of American life, such a movie moved right to the top of the witch-hunters’ list. Post-production facilities were denied to the movie, distributors were afraid to book it into their theaters, critics were afraid to mention it, and employers in the film industry made certain to prevent all of those who made the movie, including the incredibly talented Mexican movie star Rosaura Revueltas, from getting any further work! Revueltas, in fact, was deported!

Most of the stars of the movie, including Revueltas’ leading man Juan Chacon, weren’t actors. They were zinc miners in Grant County, New Mexico, and they had just been victorious in the Empire Zinc Mine strike. One of the most dramatic and successful tactics used in the strike, when the miners’ wives took over after the men were legally enjoined from picketing, is re-enacted in the film.

Huerta and Bodenstedt told their Dallas radio audience how excellent the movie is. They explained the difficulties of producing it and the impossibility of getting it shown. They also revealed that they were on their way to Santa Fe, N.M., for a special Salt of the Earth 50th Birthday Conference at the College of Santa Fe, Feb. 27-March 1. There, at the Greer Garson Theater, the movie was shown. In addition to Huerta and Bodenstedt, audiences heard from Virginia Chacón, striker and wife of lead actor Juan Chacón; Anita and Lorenzo Torrez, strikers and film participants; Sylvia Jarrico, wife of producer Paul Jarrico; and Becca Wilson, daughter of screenwriter Michael Wilson.

Lorenzo and Anita Torrez collaborate today on the Salt of the Earth Labor College in Tucson, Ariz. Lorenzo is the chairperson of the Arizona Communist Party. After the 50th Birthday Conference, he continued on to another speaking engagement on Salt of the Earth and the victorious strike that inspired it. He helped with both, and has been happy to speak about them for all these 50 years.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org