Posted: February 24, 2021
We are excited to promote the upcoming launch of the book Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood by Mark Torres. Below is their press release. Good luck to Mark!
During the early morning hours of October 8, 1961, the tranquil North Fork of Long Island, New York was unexpectedly disturbed by the blaring alarms of fire trucks careening through the countryside. Their destination was a raging fire at the infamous farm labor camp on Cox Lane in Cutchogue. For years, the camp had been used to house hundreds of migrant workers who travelled from other states to harvest potatoes and other crops on the vast farms of Long Island.
The fire began after a leaky kerosene stove inside one of the camp’s barracks exploded. Within minutes, flames engulfed the 100-foot-by-25-foot wooden structure. It took several hours and over 120 firemen to extinguish the blaze. When they did, they learned that the fire claimed the lives of three migrant workers and a fourth man died from his injuries at a nearby hospital later that day. The other occupants of the barracks barely escaped without injury.
Local police investigated the scene and discovered that one worker attempted to light the stove and the kerosene, which had leaked nearby, caused the explosion. Detectives further learned that, although kerosene stoves were barred from the camp, the one that caused the fire was snuck in by the workers to use for cooking because they struggled to afford the 75-cent cost for meals at the camp. Despite the four deaths, the fire was ultimately ruled to be an accident and no charges were filed. This deadly incident was by no means exclusive. There were fires at several other labor camps or makeshift structures inhabited by migrant farmworkers that were just as catastrophic which took the lives of men, women, and children. All of these victims were impoverished migrant laborers who lived in cramped slum-like quarters that were not fit for human habitation and the usage of portable kerosene stoves or heaters were often the unwitting instruments of death.
Along with the physical dangers, the thousands of migrant workers who were lured to Long Island each year with promises of good wages and decent housing instead found themselves mired in irrevocable debt and despair, burdened by physical and mental hardships and left powerless to effect any change. One local advocate described the migratory labor camp system as a “20th Century form of slavery.” All of this took place less than 100 miles from New York City and right in the backyard of the one of the most scenic and affluent counties in the United States.
“Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood” is the riveting, comprehensive and never before told true story about the migrant labor camps in Suffolk County from their inception during World War II, through their heyday in 1960, and culminating with their steady decline towards the end of the 20th century. This book will chronicle the many aspects of this dark history including the human suffering of the camps’ inhabitants; the cause and effect of these camps; and the factors which led to their eventual decline. This book will also feature the heroic efforts of special individuals who, in their own unique way, were outspoken critics of the deplorable conditions of these camps and fought to improve the lot of migrant workers on the eastern end of Long Island during this time period.
Dix Hills-Melville Historical Association
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