Matewan Before the Massacre
Politics, Coal, and the Roots of Conflict in a West Central West Virginia Mining Community
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: West Virginia University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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ONE VERY BAD DAY while in graduate school, I sat on the side steps of Woodburn Hall in Morgantown West Virginia, feeling so low that when a student I called “Big John” walked up and asked, “Ms. Bailey, you look like somebody’s died, what’s wrong?” I looked up at him and said “John, have you ever felt so bad about yourself, you wonder why you’re using up somebody...
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WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 1920, dawned dreary and- overcast. Though rain drizzled from the clouds intermittently throughout the day, the small town of Matewan in Mingo County, West Virginia, teemed with miners, as union relief funds were being distributed. In the midst of the activity, at 11:47 a.m., a party of Baldwin-Felts agents disembarked from train #29, having come to Matewan to enforce...
1. “BLEEDING MINGO”: 1895–19111
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ON OCTOBER 20, 1898, Henry Clay Ragland, the disgruntled editor of the Logan Banner, declared that Mingo County had been carved from Logan County three years earlier by a “Republican Statehouse conspiracy.” The close association between the state’s Republican Party and the rail and coal interests that developed southern West Virginia led most historians to accept Ragland’s complaint for nearly 100 years. By the 1970s, a conceptual paradigm not uncommon...
2. THE PROGRESSIVE ERA?
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MINGO COUNTY POLITICS between 1912 and 1919 followed the trend that had begun in 1895. Every election was bitterly contested with charges and countercharges of graft, illegal voting, and wholesale election fraud and theft. In West Virginia during the Progressive Era, reform party movements were led more often by “disgruntled outs trying to get back in” than by genuine...
3.THE WILLIAMSON-THACKER COALFIELD FALLS BEHIND
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TWENTY YEARS AFTER ITS OPENING, the Thacker coalfield, now referred to as the Williamson-Thacker coalfield, appeared to be just another of southern West Virginia’s expanding coalfields. However, superficial commonalities between it and its larger neighbors to the east and newer neighbors to the north and south masked the ways in which the Williamson-Thacker coalfield had fallen and would fall...
4. WORLD WAR I AND THE RISE OF CLASS TENSIONS
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FOR MOST OF THE PERIOD between 1917 and 1919, World War I dominated the social atmosphere of Mingo County. Civic organizations and public activities focused almost completely on supporting the war effort. However, government-sanctioned compulsory patriotism exacerbated existing social strains, such as the county’s ongoing struggles with criminal behavior, sporadic acts of violence, and public health crises. Although state and federal...
5. THE MASSACRE: BEFORE & AFTER
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DURING THE EARLY MONTHS of 1920, a series of local, state, and national events began a slow implosion that resulted in tragedy on the streets of Matewan on May 19. The external causes of the terrible tragedy included the uncertain economic state of the coal and rail industries as federal wartime regulation finally ended; the escalation of tension between the UMWA and southern West Virginia’s...
6. CONCLUSION: THE MATEWAN MYTH
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IN 1978, Henry D. Shapiro’s Appalachia On Our Mind challenged scholars to consider “what problem [the study of Appalachian history] solves and whose interests—intellectual as well as practical—it thereby serves.” Drawing inspiration from this parting thrust of Shapiro’s ground-breaking monograph, Matewan Before the Massacre has sought to explore the “back story” of the events of...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008
Series Title: West Virginia and Appalachia
Series Editor Byline: Ronald L. Lewis, Ken Fones-Wolf, Kevin Barksdale