“The worst of the explosion occurred in the No. 8 mine.” (Mine Wars, Part 1)

Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va. Boy had to stoop on account of low roof, photo taken more than a mile inside the mine. Witness E.N. Clopper. Location: MacDonald, West Virginia
Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va.
Image credit: Library of Congress

“My first work in the mines was at Borderland, WV, and I was 13 years old.  Back then, people think now, when you say you were 13 years old and start in the mines, they think something funny about it. Back then, there was no such thing as a social security card.  All you had to do was be big enough to do a days work.  I went to helping my Daddy on the track and I was kind of thin and  he told me to put on extra pair of pants and on an extra shirt to look big and we worked on the outside the first day I started to work.  I got hot and started shedding the pants and shirt.” — Frank Brooks, Retired Coal Miner at age 71, 1973

The West Virginia Mine Wars were violent conflicts between mine workers and mine owners, that took place between 1912 and 1922. In all there were five armed battles over that 10-year period:
Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike
Battle of Matewan
Battle of Tug
Miners’ March on Logan
Battle of Blair Mountain

One violent exchange took place on February 7, 1913, during the Paint Creek battle. Coal operator Quin Morton and Kanawha County Sherriff Bonner Hill rode an armored train through a miner’s tent colony at Paint Creek. Guards opened fire from the train and killed Cesco Estep, one of the miners on strike. Later, miners attacked an encampment of mine guards. In the ensuing battle at least 16 people, mostly mine guards, were killed.

This first episode in a three-part series focuses on the history of the mining industry, and the conditions that led up to the Mine Wars.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

Black Coal Miners in America: Race, Class, and Community Conflict, 1780-1980, by Ronald L. Lewis

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

Oral History Interview:  Frank Brooks

West Virginia Archives and History

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris

“The more I read, the more I fought against slavery.” (Slave Narratives and the Pursuit of Literacy, Part 3)

old grimes_001
William Grimes authored the first book-form slave narrative printed in the United States.  (Image credit:  New Georgia Encyclopedia)


“It was my great desire to read easily this book. I thought it was written by the Almighty himself. I loved this book, and prayed over it and labored until I could read it. I used to go to the church to hear the white preacher. When I heard him read his text, I would read mine when I got home. This is the way, my readers, I learned to read the Word of God when I was a slave. Thus did I labor eleven years under the impression that I was called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ever-blessed God.” — Rev. Peter Randolph, 1855

For enslaved Americans, literacy was a path to freedom.

Those who could write forged the “tickets” that both enslaved and free blacks needed to move about.  Some of these tickets took enslaved people all the way to free states, and even to Canada.

Literacy provided spiritual freedom.  It enabled people in bondage to read the whole Bible, and not just the sections that enslavers quoted.  The Bible represented liberation, both on earth and in eternity.  Enslaved Christians identified with the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

And in sharing their stories, people who had escaped slavery hoped to awaken sympathy in their fellow Americans and achieve freedom for all enslaved people.

This is the final episode in a three-part series on enslaved Americans’ pursuit of literacy. I have relied on several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Bly, Antonio T. “Slave Literacy and Education in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 24 Jun. 2019.

Cornelius, Janet. “‘We Slipped and Learned to Read:’ Slave Accounts of the Literacy Process, 1830-1865.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 44, no. 3, 1983, pp. 171–186. JSTOR.

Monaghan, E. Jennifer, “Reading for the Enslaved, Writing for the Free: Reflections on Liberty and Literacy,” American Antiquarian Society, 2000.

Williams, Heather Andrea. “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom,” University of North Carolina Press, 2009

Additional Sources:

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938

University of North Carolina’s North American Slave Narratives Collection