Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

Kennedy, David M.

Oxford University, 1999

pp. 298 - 300

One of the most colorful figures in the USA during the 1930s was John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers. He wanted a solid middle class life for his workers—a long shot in the depressed conditions of the time. (p. 299) “Dour-visaged, thickly eyebrowed, richly maned, his 230-pound bulk always impeccably tailored, Lewis was a man of ursine appearance and volcanic personality, a no-holds-barred advocate for labor and a fearsome adversary.” Trying to position himself and the UMW as moderates, Lewis claimed in 1933 to a Senate Committee (p 299) that “American labor stands between the rapacity of the robber barons of industry in America and the lustful rage of the communists, who would lay waste to our traditions and our institutions with fire and sword.” His persona (p. 299) became “thespian, which by the 1930s was a carefully wrought specimen of performance art.” (p. 300) His big voice needed no amplification. “He cultivated a grandiloquent, rococo style of speech,” thick with references to the Bible and to Shakespeare. He never apologized for bragging about himself, noting, simply, that “he who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”