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Aug 10, 2007

The following is taken in its entirety, courtesy of Wikipedia. I decided to post this because Anne asked me What misleading or untrue propaganda did they make up about your ancestors? Well, other than that we are all barefoot, ignorant, and inbred, eat peas with a knife, and po' molasses over everthing we eat, a lot of people think we are nothing but dirty coal-miners. Well, this is what coal miners did for the working man.

Battle of Blair Mountain

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The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest organized armed uprising in American labor history and led almost directly to the labor laws currently in effect in the United States of America. For nearly a week in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners confronted state and federal troops in an effort to unionize the southwestern West Virginia mine counties. Unionization had succeeded elsewhere as part of a demographic boom that was triggered by the extension of the railroad and was characterized by unprecedented immigrant hiring and exploitation in the region. The battle was the final act in a series of violent clashes that have also (confusedly) been termed the Red Neck War, from the colour of neckscarves worn by the miners, and the likely impetus of the common usage of the original Scottish term Red neck in the vernacular of the United States.

Though tensions had been simmering for years, the immediate catalyst for the uprising was the unpunished murder of Sid Hatfield, police chief of Matewan, on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse in July 1921 by alleged company goons. Hatfield had been a long-time supporter of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and their efforts to unionize the mines.

At a rally on August 7, Mother Jones called on the miners to march into Logan and Mingo counties and set up the union by force. Armed men began gathering at Lens Creek, near Marmet in Kanawha County on August 20, and by four days later up to 13,000 had gathered and began marching towards Logan County. Meanwhile, the reviled Sheriff of Logan County, Don Chafin, had begun to set up defences on Blair Mountain.

The first skirmishes occurred on the morning of August 25. The bulk of the miners were still 15 miles away. The following day, President Warren Harding threatened to send in federal troops, and the miners began to leave. However, mistaken reports came in that Sheriff Chafin's men were deliberately shooting women and children - families had been caught in crossfire during the skirmishes - and the miners turned back towards Blair Mountain, many travelling in on stolen and commandeered trains.

By August 29, battle was fully joined. Chafin's men, though outnumbered, had the advantage of higher positions and better weaponry. Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners, though many of these failed to explode and none are believed to have caused any injuries. Sporadic gun battles continued for a week, with the miners at one time nearly breaking through to the town of Logan and their target destinations, the counties to the south, Logan and Mingo. Up to 30 deaths were reported on both sides, with many hundreds more injured. By September 2, however, federal troops had arrived, the fledgling United States Army Air Service had dropped a few bombs as a demonstration meant to overawe the labor organizers and in the event, the miners dispersed the following day. It was the only time in history of the U.S.A. that military planes were used against its own people.

Following the battle, 985 miners were indicted for "murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder, and treason against the State of West Virginia." Though some were acquitted by sympathetic juries, many were also imprisoned for a number of years, though they were paroled in 1925. Short term, the battle seemed to be an overwhelming victory for management, and UMWA membership plummeted from more than 50,000 miners to circa 10,000 the next several years.

In the long-term, the battle raised awareness of the appalling conditions faced by miners in the dangerous West Virginia coalfields, and led directly to a change in union tactics into political battles to get the law on labor's side vice confrontations with recalcitrant and abusive managements and thence to the much larger organized labor victory a few years later during the New Deal in 1933. That in turn led to the UMWA helping organize many better-known unions such as the Steel workers and Teamster's during the mid-thirties.

In the final analysis, management's success was a Pyrrhic victory that led eventually to a much larger and stronger organized labor movement in many industries, not only mining, and labor union affiliations and umbrella organizations like the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and their successor the AFL-CIO. Hence, part of the legacy of this battle is the near universal eight-hour workday, workers compensation insurance, paid vacation and medical benefits now enjoyed by most full-time American workers.

In fiction

The Blair Mountain march, as well as the events leading up to it and those immediately following it, are depicted in the novels Storming Heaven (Denise Giardina, 1987) and Blair Mountain (Jonathan Lynn, 2006). John Sayles' 1986 film Matewan depicts the so-called Matewan Massacre, a small part of the Blair Mountain story. Diane Gilliam Fisher's poetry collection, Kettle Bottom, published by Perugia Press, also focuses on the events of the Battle of Blair Mountain, from the perspective of the miners' families.

References
Corbin, David, ed. The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Martinsburg, W.Va.: Appalachian Editions, 1998. ISBN 0962748609
Lee, Howard B. Bloodletting in Appalachia: The Story of West Virginia's Four Major Mine Wars and Other Thrilling Incidents of Its Coal Fields. Morgantown, W.Va.: West Virginia University Press, 1969. ISBN 0870120417
Savage, Lon. Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990. ISBN 0822936348
Shogan, Robert. The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America's Largest Union Uprising. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. ISBN 0813340969

External links
"The Red Neck War of 1921." Accessed February 28, 2006.

Organized Labour Portal
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain"
Categories: Logan County, West Virginia Miners' labor disputes Labor disputes in the United States History of the Southern United States Appalachian culture United Mine Workers of America

Now, ain't that sumthin'?

16 comments:

Anne said...

That's really cool. Major thanks to Just Me's people! It's awesome that you and a few other people are educating everyone (including me) to counteract prejudice.

About the Mexicans...
Virtually every immigrant group has been misunderstood and mistreated at some point in American history - the Chinese, Japanese, Blacks, Irish, Italians... Native Americans of course didn't need to immigrate to be mistreated. Every time a new group arrived, some people who had already gotten here acted like the newcomers would ruin the country. But that didn't happen, did it? Now it's the Mexicans' turn. Sure, I wish they could file the paperwork and pay the huge fee (about $280 per person, that's an awful lot if you're poor) to be here legally, but still they're not all kinds of evil like some people want you to believe.

Babzy said...

I'm going to read this later after I find my prescription sunglasses.

What's come over you? Your blog looks like an avocado salad. tee hee

just me said...

Thanks, Anne. Actually, we're just good old Scots-Irish, English, Indian mutts who carved a living out of the side of a mountain. Probably started as indentured servants, and then more came after the Irish potatoe famine, and look at us today. I know I don't want to mess with the UMW. But it also brought the roots to bluegrass, and so much flavor and color to the culture we call appalachian.

I thought it was a nice touch to see exactly where the term red-neck came from.

just me said...

Babzy, it is a shocker, isn't it? I don't know if I'll keep it or not.

Dave Tabler said...

I imagine most Americans think the term "redneck" came from the the sun's affect on a farmer's skin. But if you think about it, someone working in the sun all day long is probably gonna have the good sense to put a HAT on after awhile! This is one of the great great stories from the region, and the more people exposed to it, the better! Thanks for the post.

Dave Tabler
appalachianhistory.net

SJ said...

Thanks for the education.

just me said...

Good to see you Dave. I think what gets me about this true story is how few people know about it. How few people realize what the Company Store really meant to these people, slaving away, then having to purchase everything they needed from the company they worked for at inflated prices so they never got ahead. Never broke even. Until they said no more. And the US government came after them!

Babzy said...

I like this template and now that it's morning my eyes don't sizzle and burn. Besides, we need our greens. Actually the more I look at it the better I like it. Let's take a vote .... Everyone if favour of Deb keeping her new template say AYE!

If you DO want to keep the template but just change the colours or modify them you can do it. Do you know that? I can show you if you want. If it were my template I would darken the headings such as the date and all that goes with it. I like the white page with blue text. That's good and easy to read. I also like the light green. I think it's just the two greens together that jar my preserves.

Catmoves said...

What green template? Did you change it again? Aye!
About this great education you supplied: thank you, thank you. thank you. Interesting about how the term from red neck came from Scotland and Wales. Does that mean I can't make fun of y'all now?
Thanks again.

Babzy said...

Cat, the green template that you're looking at.

Ha, I just remembered you saw an orange T-shirt on Bruno and I saw it as hot pink. One of us is colour blind.

Catmoves said...

Green. Like the Red Cross link? And the Technorati link? Only green I see. You'd better get your eyes checked. Could be colour blindness.
No joke here: men do indeed see colors differently than women (that's a gross fact, both meanings apply, to that, too). I'll give you Bruno in hot pink. If he doesn't object. ROFLMAO.

just me said...

Bruno was wearing a dark red t-shirt. Both of ya'll is color-blind. Or your monitors need adjusting. And the background here is a very faint light green. I might experiment, go with purple neon or some such mess....Seems, roomier for some reason.

Actually, the old people, what my parents referred to my great-grandparents as, used you-uns, instead of ya'll. When Virginia succeeded from the Union, a portion of the western part of Virginia succeeded from Virginia, and evidentially became the state of West Virginia, as they did not support the concept of slavery. I guess I'll have to post something about Harper's Ferry, and John Brown here sometime or other.

I cannot, for the life of me, see Bruno in hot pink. It just does not compute. It goes together about as well as peanut butter and bologna. ewooooohhhh.

Nick said...

Interesting. Thanks for your kind words on our blog friend.

Babzy said...

Okay okay... maybe there IS something wrong with my monitor. I'm going to spend the rest of the day obsessing and compulsiing over this. But I will get to the bottom of it and report back eventually.

This colour thing has distracted me from reading this post until now. Deb, you are a wonderful researcher. I had not heard this story before (being a Canuck and all) but our countries share a common history.

This line in your post "Hence, part of the legacy of this battle is the near universal eight-hour workday, workers compensation insurance, paid vacation and medical benefits now enjoyed by most full-time American workers." is one that I've been spouting for years. If it wasn't for unions NOBODY would be enjoying the benefits they've fought for. When I hear someone say "I don't believe in unions." or "Greedy unions" or "Lazy union workers." I go ballistic. Would they rather work for minimum wage, no insurance, no vacation, no days off, no nothing? I think I'll do a post on this subject.

Deb, Thanks for doing this post for us.

just me said...

Welcome, Nick. Glad to see ya.

You go Babzy.

skinnylittleblonde said...

Very interesting indeed.
I have to shamefully admit, that I too, had thought that the term Redneck came from working in the sun.