“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

“Nothing here but money.” (The Great Migration, Part 3)

“In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.” Jacob Lawrence
Image credit: The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC


“South State Street was in its glory then, a teeming Negro street with crowded theatres, restaurants and cabarets.  And excitement from noon to noon.  Midnight was like day.  The street was full of workers and gamblers, prostitutes and pimps, church folks and sinners.” — Langston Hughes

In many ways, the North delivered on its promise.  The migrants enjoyed higher wages, better education for their children, and the opportunity to participate in the political process.  Perhaps most refreshingly, they no longer had to behave in a subservient manner to white people. Letters from migrants to their Southern friends and families, drew more and more blacks out of the South.

 Dear Sir:

I take this method of thanking you for your early responding and the glorious effect of the treatment. Oh. I do feel so fine. Dr., the treatment reach[ed] me almost ready to move. I am now housekeeping again. I like it so much better than rooming. Well, Dr., with the aid of God I am making very good. I make $75 per month. I am carrying enough insurance to pay me $20 per week if I am not able to be on duty. I don’t have to work hard, don’t have to mister every little white boy comes along. I haven’t heard a white man call a colored a n*****r you know now–since I been in the state of PA. I can ride in the electric street and steam cars anywhere I get a seat. I don’t care to mix with white. What I mean–I am not crazy about being with white folks, but if I have to pay the same fare, I have learn[ed] to want the same accommodation. And if you are first in a place here shopping, you don’t have to wait until the white folks get through trading. Yet amid all this, I shall ever love the good old South and I am praying that God may give every well wisher a chance to be a man regardless of his color, and if my going to the front would bring about such conditions, I am ready any day.  Well, Dr., I don’t want to worry you but read between lines; and maybe you can see a little sense in my weak statement. The kids are in school every day. I have only two, and I guess that [is] all. Dr., when you find time, I would be delighted to have a word from the good old home state. Wife join[s] me in sending love you and yours.

 I am your friend and patient.

However, while wages were higher than the migrants had earned before, the pay was often low relative to the higher cost of living.  Many migrants were forced to live in overcrowded and dilapidated neighborhoods.  In Chicago, the newcomers clashed culturally with the Old Settlers–blacks who had lived in the city much longer.  And, they clashed violently with whites, in Chicago and throughout the North.

I referred to several sources, but used the following most heavily–

“The Forgotten March That Started the National Civil Rights Movement Took Place 100 Years Ago”

Blowing the Trumpet: The ‘Chicago Defender’ and Black Migration during World War I,” James R. Grossman

Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration, James R. Grossman

“In Motion: The African-American Experience (The Great Migration)

“The Origins and Diffusion of Racial Restrictive Covenants,” Michael Jones-Correa

The Journal of Negro History, Volume IV, 1919

The Journal of Negro History, Volume VI, 1921

“‘If You Can’t Push, Pull, If You Can’t Pull, Please Get Out of the Way’: The Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home in Chicago, 1896 to 1920,”Anne Meis Knupfer

The Defender: How a Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, Ethan Michaeli

The Great Black Migration:  A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, Steven A. Reich

Negro Migration During the War,” Emmett J. Scott Read more