By L.M. Sutter
They were 13,000 strong that August of 1921, marching to Bloody Mingo, singing the songs of the union. Tired of chafing under the cruelties of the coal companies they marched. They marched because of Matewan and the memory of Sid Hatfield barely cold in his mountain grave. They marched because of the bitterness they felt by being told how to think, how to vote, how to live and how to die. Against the coal companies and their private armies of strikebreakers and Baldwin-Felts goons, the West Virginia miners marched.
The companies called them communists. Bolsheviks. Reds. But they were simply proud West Virginia coal miners who wore the face of America, made up of Scots-Irish, Slavs, Greeks, Italians, Spanish and the descendants of slaves, looking for a better life than in the share-cropping South. Many had served our country across the seas. Brothers all, under the black dust of the mines, they sought a chance at something better. In 1921, this Redneck Army marched to meet the company forces.
Picture them with their red bandannas, armed with nothing more than shotguns and hunting rifles. Picture the private armies of the companies, tucked into machine gun nests, perched high on the hillsides so they could see the miners coming. Imagine the drone of the planes, warning of the bombs about to fall—tear gas bombs and bombs packed with nails for shrapnel. Bombs dropped by Americans on Americans.
In the end, it was the companies that prevailed, but that tragic victory wouldn’t last forever. The miners eventually put power to their dreams and sound to their voices.
Blair Mountain is a sacred place, a protected memorial to the miners who were willing to die for a chance to live like free men. May their sacrifices live long in the memory of every citizen of the Mountain State.