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  • Introduction
  • Lou Martin, Guest Editor

The West Virginia Mine Wars are once again on our minds. Over the decades, these events have risen and then faded in the public consciousness. David Corbin has told me that he was pretty lonely researching the Mine Wars in the 1970s. After the 1981 publication of Corbin's seminal Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields, the Mine Wars inspired a number of popular histories, including Lon Savage's nonfiction narrative Thunder in the Mountains, and fictionalized accounts, including Denise Giardina's historical novel Storming Heaven and John Sayles's movie Matewan. In 1989, the Mate-wan Development Center sponsored an extensive oral history project, and in 1991, the West Virginia University Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology surveyed the cultural resources of Blair Mountain. Then the Mine Wars slipped out of the spotlight once again.

In March 2009, after several nominations, the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places added Blair Mountain to the list, but Jackson Kelly, a law firm representing several coal companies, had already submitted evidence to dispute the listing based on objections from land owners. In December 2009, the keeper delisted Blair Mountain.1 For those who were fighting strip mining, trying to reclaim the region's history, or thinking about the economy of the future, the Mine Wars took on new relevance.

As Chuck Keeney explains in this issue, Blair Mountain has been an important symbol in an ongoing ideological struggle over the history and the future of the coalfields. The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain—between an estimated ten thousand miners and three to four thousand deputies and National Guardsmen—was the culmination of many years of the miners organizing and fighting against company towns and mine guards and fighting for the right to unionize. In the last decade, preservationists have joined forces with environmentalists in an attempt to save Blair Mountain from destruction by mountaintop removal. Demonstrating its historical significance has been an important part of that effort. Several historians, including me, joined the 2011 March on Blair Mountain, which had the goals of saving [End Page vii] Blair Mountain, abolishing mountaintop removal, honoring labor rights, and demanding a sustainable economy in Central Appalachia.

This issue begins with William Hal Gorby's study of mine operator Justus Collins: his background, his role in the industrialization of Southern West Virginia, and his influence on coalfield development. Collins was likely shaped by his apprenticeship in the mining companies of Birmingham, Alabama, during the heyday of the convict labor system there, and he brought his keen sense of labor cost accounting to the Pocahontas Coalfield of West Virginia. Gorby examines Collins's perceptions and behaviors in a highly competitive business climate in which he saw himself as beholden to numerous creditors. This article gives depth to a historical figure that students of Mine Wars history usually meet only after he was fully formed.

Ginny Ayers has done a great service to the historical community by completing the manuscript that her father, Lon Savage, started before his passing. The book-length project recounts the events on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek during the 1912–1913 strike, one of the bloodiest in US history, perhaps most famous for inspiring Ralph Chaplin to write the labor anthem, "Solidarity Forever." In this article, Ayers previews the beginning of the narrative as we follow Mary "Mother" Jones on her journey to Paint Creek and witness the beginning of the bloodshed.

Next, Chuck Keeney follows the evolution of the coal industry's mine guards into "mind guards" as the struggle for power intersected with attempts to control the official history of the Mine Wars. Coal-industry officials and their allies began efforts to control the narrative through the newspaper coverage of the events at the time, and Keeney finds continuity between the operators' efforts in the 1920s and the state officials' efforts in the 1930s and beyond to keep the events out of state histories, textbooks, and classrooms. He follows the activities of these "mind guards" right up to the recent controversies surrounding mining activity on Blair Mountain.

While Keeney follows industrialists' efforts to shape the narrative over the decades...


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