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Salt of the Earth (Motion Picture) FBI Files

Identifier: DC-MSS-002

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of FBI files regarding production of the 1954 film Salt of the Earth in 1953. The documents were declassified between 1983 and 1989, with many redactions. They were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

All documents are reproduced in one 227-page pdf file. They are in loose chronological order.

The documents include reports, teletypes, and memoranda circulated within the FBI. The FBI sought to find connections between the production and the Communist Party or hostile foreign powers. FBI agents investigated the Independent Productions Corporation (IPC) and its stakeholders, as well as all actors, writers, stage hands and technical personnel involved in the film. As the film was sponsored, though not financed, by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) Local 890, members and activities of the union were also scrutinized.

The contents of the documents include:
  • Detailed reports on articles of incorporation and officers of IPC.
  • Detailed reports on financial transactions of IPC and other firms with suspected connections to the production.
  • Detailed reports on the political views and character of professional film crew members and IUMMSW union leaders.
  • Descriptions of threats from and violent conflicts with community members in the environs of Silver City, New Mexico.
  • Efforts to determine the location of the film editing lab, of the finished negative, and of plans for domestic and foreign release.


  • 1953

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publications or distribution.

Film Production History

Salt of the Earth is an American film shot in the Silver City, New Mexico area in 1953 and released in 1954.

Its plot centers on a long and difficult strike, based on the 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico. In the film, the company is identified as "Delaware Zinc", and the setting is "Zinctown, New Mexico". The film shows how the miners, the company, and the police react during the strike. In neorealist style, the producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film. The film is considered one of the first pictures to include a feminist social and political point of view.

Salt of the Earth was considered 'subversive' because many blacklisted Hollywood professionals worked on it. Included were actors Rosaura Revueltas and Will Geer, writer Michael Wilson, director Herbert J. Biberman, and producer Paul Jarrico. The International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers sponsored, but did not finance it. The union had been expelled from the CIO in 1950, over the alleged domination of its leadership by communists.

The production employed only five professional actors. The rest were locals from Grant County, New Mexico, largely members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 890, many of whom had participated in the strike that inspired the plot. Lead actor Juan Chacón was in real life a union local president.

The project was denounced by the United States House of Representatives for its communist sympathies, and the FBI investigated the film's financing for evidence of hostile foreign interests. It was believed that Salt of the Earth would be used overseas as anti-American propaganda. There was indeed great interest in the film in France, Russia, Mexico, and the U.K. The American Legion called for a nationwide boycott of the film.

During production in New Mexico in 1953, anti-Communist vigilantes attacked the film crew and burned homes of union members. Mexican national Rosaura Revueltas, the leading lady, was forced to abandon the set under threat of imprisonment and deportation. Mexican authorities cooperated with the FBI in making it difficult for the crew to shoot her remaining scenes in Mexico.

The film was processed and edited in secret locations in California. The negatives were closely guarded. Film-processing labs were told not to work on Salt of the Earth, and unionized projectionists were instructed not to show it. After its opening night in New York City, the film was rarely seen in the U.S. for another10 years, because all but 12 theaters in the country refused to screen it.


7.1 MB (Available as a PDF file.)


FBI communications regarding their investigation of the "subversive" film in production.
Finding Aid of the Salt of the Earth (Motion Picture) FBI Files, 1953
W. Pedersen
© 2020
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Finding aid is in English

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131