Terry M. Deener
West Virginia History HIST225
March 10, 2013
In the early 20th Century, West Virginia was a place where coal barons held immense power. Coal companies owned towns, mayors and governors. Miners were forced to live on coal camps and rent houses from them, as well as purchase all of their coal and other items required to survive from the companies. With this control, mining families where forced to live and work in brutal conditions. In 1921, after a generation of violent suppression, miners erupted in the largest class war in US history. For 5 days miners fought the coal barons, over 1 million rounds of ammunition were fired, this is known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the result of inhumane treatment of coal miners in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Throughout the 20th century, coal miners attempted to overthrow the system laid out by the coal companies and partake in a number of strikes. By 1920, most of West Virginia’s coal miners had become members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), while most of the southern coalfields still remained non-unionized and under the stronghold of the coal operators.
In response to many of the miners organizing efforts, coal operators would use every mean possible to prohibit the forming of a union. The primary method was to simply fire the union sympathizers, blacklist them, and then evict them from their homes. A coal company lawyer referred to coal miners as the companies servant saying, “It is like a servant lives at your house. If the servant leaves your employment, if you discharge him, you ask him to get out of the servants’ quarters.” Because of this cruel and spiteful method of prohibiting unionization, UMWA set up tent colonies to house the homeless miners and their families.
On May 19, 1920, 12 Baldwin-Felts agents arrived in Matewan, including Lee Felts who met up with his brother Albert Felts who was already
Bibliography: Rice, Otis K.. West Virginia : A History (2nd Edition). University Press of Kentucky, 1993. pg. 231-32. West Virginia Encyclopedia: Battle of Blair Mountain. Retrieved February 29, 2013 from http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/532 You Tube Website: The Battle of Blair Mountain. Retrieved March 8, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5t908O0j-Q