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There was a code of silence: Re-release of oral histories as book marks centennial of pivotal Battle of Blair Mountain


BY ASHTON MARRA

100 Days in Appalachia 

Fifty years ago, Anne Lawrence found herself travelling from her college classrooms on the campus of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania south to the coalfields of Central Appalachia. 

Ashton Marra

Then a junior studying history and sociology, the Massachusetts native was hired by Miners for Democracy to collect the oral histories of Appalachian coal miners and their families who, 50 years before, had literally fought for the right to unionize in the 1920s and ‘30s.

“I am not a West Virginian,” Lawrence said, “so I had to learn a lot when I arrived in West Virginia. I had to do a lot of listening and a lot of learning.”Click Here to Sign Up for Our Newsletter and Get the Latest from Appalachia

As an outsider, she had to build trust with people who Lawrence said had experienced a “code of silence” around the battle to unionize – many of them West Virginans involved in the Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain just north of Logan, West Virginia. 

This month marks the centennial anniversary of that battle, where some 7,000 armed coal miners – southern whites, Blacks and European immigrants – marched south from near the state’s capital of Charleston to be met at the mountain by Sheriff’s deputies, mine guards and anti-union miners. The skirmish lasted for five days, until Pres. Warren Harding sent in the U.S. Army and Air Corps to put an end to the violence. 

It also marks 50 years since Lawrence first published those oral histories in a report titled “On Dark and Bloody Ground: An Oral History of the UMWA in Central Appalachia 1920-1935.” The report largely languished in archives and libraries, as a powerful tool for research around the pivotal time for labor organizing in the nation’s history, but, Lawrence said, it had largely fallen out of the public eye as the anniversary approached.

Read more at https://www.100daysinappalachia.com/2021/08/there-was-a-code-of-silence-re-release-of-oral-histories-as-book-marks-centennial-of-pivotal-battle-of-blair-mountain/

This article was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia, a nonprofit, collaborative newsroom telling the complex stories of the region that deserve to be heard. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here: https://www.100daysinappalachia.com/subscribe/

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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