West Virginia celebrates the 100th anniversary of the largest labour uprising in American history.
A celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Blair Mountain will take place in the State of West Virginia. The Blair 100 Committee has organised a huge series of wide ranging events beginning on 19th August and concentrated on the weekend from September 3rd to September 6th 2021.
Please visit www.blair100.com for full details.
On Thursday August 26th a virtual discussion “We Shall Rise” will be hosted by the Mother Jones Heritage Project with speakers such as Kim Kelly, Elliott Gorn and Ginny Ayers. All are welcome to join in. Register at www.motherjonesmuseum.org/events
Thursday August 19th will see a roundtable discussion on why the Battle of Blair Mountain remains significant for working people today will be organised by The Battle of Homestead Foundation. Those interested can register at the Eventbrite website link.
The weekend events include the UMWA retracing the “Miners March to Blair Mountain” beginning in Marmet on 3rd September. There are numerous exhibitions of photographs, including an art exhibition entitled “Pray for the Dead, and Fight Like Hell for the Living”.
The Battle of Blair Mountain, West Virginia in August/September 1921.
The murder of the pro-union Chief of Police Sid Hatfield of Matewan, Mingo County, on August 1st 1921 by Baldwin Felts thugs on the steps of the Courthouse in Welch, West Virginia was the spark which ignited the workers uprising. This murder was in retaliation for the earlier street shoot-out on 19th May 1920 involving Sid, a former miner and other miners in Matewan in which seven Baldwin Felts guards including two of the Felts brothers were killed. The guards had been trying to evict local mining families.
(Photo: Mother Jones with Sid Hatfield)
Tension spilled over following the murder of Hatfield, long regarded as a local hero. When Mother Jones arrived, she gave an emotional speech in the state capitol in Charleston on 7th August which further inflamed passions. Mother Jones was very familiar with the working conditions of the miners, as she had spent many years organising the United Mineworkers Union in the State of West Virginia.
Outraged miners gathered in large numbers demanding justice and organised themselves into an army. They decided to march to nearby Logan County where sheriff Don Chafin had imprisoned many union organisers. Some estimates place the number of armed miners at between 7,000-10,000. Many were World War 1 veterans. Among those active were Mother Jones’s “Irish boys”, the miners’ leaders Frank Keeney, Fred Mooney, Laurence Dwyer and Bill Blizzard.
Fearing a bloodbath and worried that a trap was being set for the UMWA, Mother Jones spoke to this citizen army at Marmet on 24th August and implored them to return. However, following the murder of some miners by Chafin, most of their colleagues ignored her appeals and continued into the hills determined to go to Logan County.
The Battle of Blair Mountain commenced and raged for three days, pitting lightly armed miners against sheriff Chapin’s lawmen, strikebreakers, mine guards and coal operators agents. Dozens on both sides died, a million rounds of ammunition were fired, the miners were even bombed from a plane.
With the arrival of American troops, ordered in by President Harding, the miners withdrew. Hundreds of miners were later arrested and some charged with treason. They had fought bravely, but the miners union lay in ruins across the State.
This innovative and exciting centenary celebration being held across West Virginia clearly demonstrates that the courage, bravery and sacrifice of the miners and their families to stand up for their union and for justice has not been forgotten, and is as relevant today as one hundred years ago. We wish the organisers every success.
For details of the Battle of Blair Mountain Centennial full programme, visit www.blair100.com.
For further information on the history of the Mine Wars in West Virginia, why not visit The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum (online).
If you would like to find out more about Mother Jones’ role during the Battle of Blair Mountain, please read Chapter 4.12 (“The Battle of Blair Mountain“) of “A Story of Mother Jones”.