MATEWAN, W.Va. —
The bullet holes within the brick wall of a broken-down submit office assist as a reminder of how Appalachian coal miners fought to enhance the lives of workers a century ago.
Ten participants had been killed in a gun fight between miners, who had been led by an area police chief, and a neighborhood of non-public safety guards employed to evict them for becoming a member of a union in Matewan, a minute “company town” in West Virginia.
Plans to publicly commemorate what grew to turn into identified as the Matewan Massacre believe been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic till September not less than. However historians put in mind the bloodshed on Would maybe merely 19, 1920, memorialized within the 1987 film “Matewan,” to be a landmark moment within the battles for staff’ rights that raged across the Appalachian coalfields within the early 20th century.
“The company town procedure became extremely oppressive,“ acknowledged Lou Martin, a ancient previous professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and a board member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan. „The company owned the homes, the ideal store in town, ran the church and managed every aspect of the miners’ lives.”
Firm cities had been critically prevalent in far-off areas worship southern West Virginia, which had the nation’s most spirited concentration of nonunion miners in 1920. And when the United Mine Crew got right here to town, coal corporations retaliated.
The Stone Mountain Coal Co. employed Baldwin-Felts Company detectives to evict union families from company-owned homes. Government Albert Felts brought a dozen males to Matewan, at the side of two who had been challenging about violent strike-breaking efforts six years earlier in Ludlow, Colorado.
The detectives eradicated the families and had been headed out after they had been confronted by a neighborhood led by Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield. Killed within the gunfire had been Albert Felts, his brother, Lee, five totally different Baldwin-Felts detectives, Matewan Mayor Cabell Testerman and two bystanders.
Fifteen months later, Hatfield became long previous, too, gunned down by Baldwin-Felts detectives on the McDowell County courthouse steps. He became 28.
More particular than ever to prepare, miners marched by the thousands, main to the 12-day Battle of Blair Mountain within the summertime of 1921. Sixteen males died earlier than they surrendered to federal troops.
The UMW’s advertising and marketing campaign in southern West Virginia then stalled, alongside with labor setbacks in steel, meat packing and railroads following World Warfare I. Appalachian coal operators felt they foremost to live nonunion in list to continue to exist, Martin acknowledged.
“They believed all the pieces else became in opposition to them — the terrain, freight charges,” he acknowledged. “However paying lower wages, they might discontinuance in industry and live profitable.”
However “miners would long take into accout the lengths that the corporations went to to live them from having same old rights that might maybe advantage them prepare and safe a each day of residing,” Martin acknowledged.
In her 1925 autobiography, union organizer Mary Harris “Mother“ Jones acknowledged she witnessed a few conflicts between “the commercial slaves and their masters” for the length of visits to West Virginia.
Inform officials had been reluctant to remark the coal operators.
“There is not peace in West Virginia as a consequence of there is not justice,” Jones wrote. “’Medieval West Virginia!‘ With its tent colonies on the grim hills! With its grim males and women folks! When I safe to totally different aspect, I shall order God Almighty about West Virginia!”
When workers had been within the ruin assured the composed to collectively carve charge in 1933 as segment of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Original Deal, West Virginia coal miners joined the UMW in droves, Martin acknowledged.
The UMW furthermore bankrolled the organization that might maybe turn into the United Steelworkers, and with John L. Lewis main the UMW from 1920 to 1960, nationwide membership peaked at about 500,000 for the length of World Warfare II.
The union helped push by means of predominant enhancements to effectively being, safety and pensions, across the U.S. crew. However over the next half century, mechanization, fierce industry opposition and the upward thrust of competing gas sources severely diminished coal jobs and union membership.
The Stone Mountain Coal Co. is long long previous, but Matewan mute stands, as does its union hall. Town has lost half of its population since 1980, but it has survived the shootings, three dozen floods from the Tug Fork of the Gargantuan Sandy River earlier than a floodwall became built, a 1992 fire that destroyed lots of downtown corporations and the opioid disaster that has ravaged the remark.
Feelings about unions are blended, but locals boom the movie helped steal a mask of silence that kept participants from even declaring the shootings. Resident Wilma Steele, whose husband is a retired union miner, acknowledged she did not read referring to the battles of Matewan and Blair Mountain till she went to college.
Now the Kentucky border town of about 430 residents leans on tourism referring to the bloodbath, as effectively as the infamous feud between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky. A gigantic community of ATV trails draws furthermore draws recreational tourists.
Museum tour files Kim McCoy, whose maiden title is Hatfield, married a elephantine-grandson of the McCoy family. She grew up in Matewan’s coal camps and is a elephantine niece every of family patriarch William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Sid Hatfield, who resisted when employed weapons evicted his neighbors a century ago.
“The Hatfield title is highly distinctive in our dwelling,” McCoy acknowledged. “Sid being segment of the Matewan Massacre and no doubt standing up for the miners and the miners‘ same old human rights, there’s an excellent deal of honor in that.”
David Hatfield, who operates a Matewan mattress-and-breakfast and is Sid Hatfield’s elephantine nephew, acknowledged American citizens currently do away with enjoyment in what the miners strived for, at the side of better working circumstances.
„It be foremost to me as a consequence of my family helped bring that about in some segment,“ he acknowledged.