Mtn. Talk: Remembering the Battle of Blair Mountain
In this episode we are honoring the history of the Battle of Blair Mountain which took place from August 25-Sept 2, 1921. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest labor uprising in United States history, and it took place in the context of the decade long West Virginia Mine Wars. During that time miners and their families fought to bring a union, and through it, safer and more just working and living conditions to the Southern WV Coalfields.
By the time the Battle of Blair Mountain took place, WV miners had the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes of 1912 and 1913 in their memories, and the more recent May 1920 Matewan Massacre. But when, Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield – a miners hero – was shot on the MacDowell County Courthouse Steps on August 1st, 1921, miners took up arms and began gathering by the thousands in Marmet, WV. Estimates of the miners’ army’s size range from 10,000 to nearly 20,000. But, regardless, the armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders, Federal Troops were sent in to back the coal companies, which effectively ended the battle, but not, the struggle to unionize the Southern WV Coalfields.
In this episode we talk with people involved in honoring this history today. First we hear from Lou Martin, a professor of history at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA who is a board member of the WV Mine Wars Museum. He talks about the museum itself and why it’s important to remember this history. Then we hear from historian and writer Catherine Moore, a co-founder of the museum who is working on a book about the Mine Wars. Moore talks about museum history as well as the important and radical roles that women played during the Mine Wars.
Then, from the Appalshop Archive, we hear an excerpt of the film Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category. Nimrod Workman was born in 1895 and provided for a family of thirteen working in the coal mines of West Virginia. In this clip we hear songs Nimrod wrote, and stories about his involvement in the union organizing of the 1920s and 1930s, including at the Battle of Blair Mountain.
And finally, we hear from retired miner Joe Stanley and history professor Chuck Keeney about their work with Friends of Blair Mountain to get the historic battlefield site re-listed on the National Register of Historic Places.