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West Virginia families have a long history of working in coal mines, and although there are labor laws put in place to keep miners and their families safe, it was not always like this. Before coal miners were allowed to unionize, West Virginia miners were subject to the control of the coal industry. Coal companies maintained economic, social, and legal control of miners and their families living in coal towns. For years this abuse went on, eventually leading to a heated battle between miners and the coal companies, deemed now as The Battle of Blair Mountain (“West Virginia Mine Wars”).
Daily life in coal company towns leading up to The Battle of Blair Mountain was dismal. The coal company operators maintained control of the living conditions in their homes, how they could travel outside of the town, the infrastructures within the towns, how they could buy food, and even if they were allowed to stay in their homes. The coal companies controlled everything, and the effects this control had on families was tragic.
Excerpts from textual primary sources are embedded throughout the digital exhibit. In these documents, miners and their families give personal accounts of their experiences, with rich detail about life in company towns. Their words paint a salient portrait of how families suffered in the events leading up to the Battle of Blair Mountain.
Four hundred native born American mothers, wives and daughters tell why they are fighting for the miners’ union in Northern West Virginia is a pamphlet which records the sentiments of the women in mining families. They recall the anguish they watched the miners go through and describe their own struggles of trying to survive in non-unionized company towns. Published by the United Mine Workers of America, the document also contains the signatures of four hundred pro-unionization women.
In Non-Union Mines: The Diary of a Coal Digger was written by a man who was hired by the Bureau of Industrial Research to work in coal mines and report his experiences. He chronicles his time seeking employment in the coal mines, describing what it was like to live and work in company towns.
In these transcripts of Even the Heavens Weep, native West Virginians recount their experiences as they witnessed the Mining Wars firsthand. Many of the interviewees were young men living in company towns and working in the mines during the historical labor disputes.