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African American Miners and Migrants

The Eastern Kentucky Social Club

Thomas E. Wagner

Publication Year: 2004

Thomas E. Wagner and Phillip J. Obermiller's African American Miners and Migrants documents the lives of Eastern Kentucky Social Club (EKSC) members, a group of black Appalachians who left the eastern Kentucky coalfields and their coal company hometowns in Harlan County. _x000B__x000B_Bound together by segregation, the inherent dangers of mining, and coal company paternalism, it might seem that black miners and mountaineers would be eager to forget their past. Instead, members of the EKSC have chosen to celebrate their Harlan County roots. African American Miners and Migrants uses historical and archival research and extensive personal interviews to explore their reasons and the ties that still bind them to eastern Kentucky. The book also examines life in the model coal towns of Benham and Lynch in the context of Progressive Era policies, the practice of welfare capitalism, and the contemporary national trend of building corporate towns and planned communities.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Many years ago, we began a journey toward understanding why people in the Appalachian mountains would want to leave the region, learning more about the difficulties they faced and exploring their life experiences in their new homes. Along the way, we became especially interested in the organizations formed by these migrants ...

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pp. 1-4

The life of poet Effie Waller Smith encompassed much of the history of the people described in this book—black Appalachian migrants from the eastern Kentucky coalfields. At first, it seems Effie Smith would have little in common with the members of the Eastern Kentucky Social Club, ...

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1. "Coming Up on the Rough Side of the Mountain": African Americans and Coal Camps in Appalachia

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pp. 5-16

The African American men and women who were recruited to work and live in the coal towns of Benham and Lynch were not the first blacks in Appalachia. African Americans have a long history in the Appalachian mountains. They accompanied the earliest French and Spanish explorers into the region as both freedmen and as slaves. ...

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2. "Life for Me Ain't Been No Crystal Stair": African Americans in Coal Towns

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pp. 17-34

Although there is no evidence that racist and separatist practices were less prevalent in the Appalachian mountains than elsewhere, special conditions seem to have prevailed in coal towns. In the early days of the Appalachian coalfields, when labor shortages put a premium on workers, companies considered black coal miners to be valuable assets ...

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3. "I Don't Know Where To, but We're Moving": African American Survival Strategies in Coal Towns

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pp. 35-51

In his study of southern West Virginia coal miners, David Corbin argues that the constrained atmosphere created and maintained in companycontrolled coal towns strongly favored class consciousness over racial or ethnic consciousness. He maintains that the extensive corporate control experienced by residents of these towns led to antagonism ...

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4. "Sing a Song of 'Welfare'": Corporate Communities and Welfare Capitalism in Southeastern Kentucky

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pp. 52-67

Between 1900 and 1930 Harlan County, Kentucky, the setting for Benham and Lynch, underwent a rapid transformation from an agrarian, pre-capitalist economy to a heavily industrialized area owned and controlled by large corporations. Harlan County’s big new industry was coal mining. ...

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5. "Living Tolerably Well Together": Life in Model Towns along Looney Creek

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pp. 68-90

The opening of the Harlan County coalfields came when the L&N Railroad completed the Wasiota and Black Mountain Branch of its rail lines into the county in the early 1900s. By 1921 Harlan had become the top coal-producing county in Kentucky. ...

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6. "What Kept You Standing, Why Didn't You Fall?": African Americans in Benham and Lynch

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pp. 91-99

The literature about coal towns in Appalachia presents a mixed view of life in these communities. The conventional view is that of a harsh, bleak existence under the dictatorial rule of mine operators. Ron Eller and David Corbin as well as several writers of fiction and popular song have suggested that life was brutal in many towns ...

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7. "One Close Community": The Eastern Kentucky Social Club

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pp. 100-110

The formation of social clubs by immigrant ethnic groups is a well-established feature of the American social landscape. The United States is a nation of migrants, and every major city hosts at least a few such organizations, each dedicated to celebrating the food, drink, music, dance, and lore of a specific heritage. ...

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8. "They Love Coming Home": Appalachian Ties That Bind

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pp. 111-120

In the end it is fair to ask, What is unusual about the Eastern Kentucky Social Club? Overall, its members do not seem exceptional in comparison to other members of African American or Appalachian migrant organizations, to other black miners, or even to other black residents of company-owned towns in the Appalachian coalfields. ...

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Afterword: Values, Spoken and Unspoken

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pp. 121-130

“What did you think of this fighter?” heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis was asked at the end of his famous bout against Max Schmeling in front of seventy thousand fans at Yankee Stadium in 1938. Joe, known as the Brown Bomber, replied in his own unique way: “I ain’t nevah hit nobody dat hard, dat many times and he didn’t go down. ...


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pp. 131-142


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pp. 143-154


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pp. 155-158

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092732
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252071645

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 815477950
MUSE Marc Record: Download for African American Miners and Migrants

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Eastern Kentucky Social Club -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Societies, etc.
  • African Americans -- Interviews.
  • African American coal miners -- Kentucky -- Social life and customs.
  • Mining camps -- Kentucky -- History.
  • Rural-urban migration -- United States.
  • Kentucky -- Social life and customs.
  • Mountain life -- Kentucky.
  • Benham (Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Lynch (Ky.) -- Biography.
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