- "A Story That Is to Them Unknown":Jim Green's Efforts to Bring the Mine Wars to a National Audience
James R. Green spent several years researching and crafting the manuscript that became The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, which was published in 2015. In 2007, at a conference jointly organized by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA) and the Southern Labor Studies Association at Duke University, he gave a presentation where he encouraged labor historians to reach the broader public with their work. His book Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America had just been published the previous year, and he was excited by the level of interest it had generated and thought a lot about what had interested his readers, such as the book's courtroom drama.
I was lucky to be in the audience. As a graduate student I was glad to know that there were esteemed historians thinking about our role beyond the ivory tower. And afterward, my advisor Ken Fones-Wolf introduced me to Jim, who immediately asked me to be a research assistant for his next project, a book about the West Virginia Mine Wars, which gave me a front-row seat to some of the development of The Devil Is Here in These Hills.
Shortly after that conference, Jim began sending me assignments: copy articles from the United Mine Workers Journal, research Governor Glass-cock's papers, and so forth. One of the more memorable assignments was to contact a man about his photograph collection. That man's collaborator told me—in no uncertain terms—that somebody from Massachusetts had no business writing a history of the West Virginia Mine Wars. When I told Jim about it, he was not nearly as frustrated as I was. He wrote to me, "I am sure he has excellent reasons for mistrusting outside interpreters. Of course, I have my own standards of accuracy and my own desire to reach a really large audience with a story that is to them unknown."1 [End Page 91]
In July 2008, Jim and I drove around the Southern West Virginia coal-fields. After we met with Paul Rakes, a coal miner turned historian, we drove up Cabin Creek where we met a resident historian on his porch. For a half hour, we sat and talked about local landmarks, the 1912–1913 strike, and the power of coal companies in the present day before driving on through the coal camps Jim had been researching and writing about.
Jim had taken a similar trip thirty years earlier. He had been engaged with issues in West Virginia and particularly with mine workers since 1978 when he covered turmoil in the UMWA for Radical America. He traveled through the coalfields, talking to miners and attending rallies. His article discussed the challenges the union faced, the causes of a wave of wildcat strikes, and the group of radicals within the union that were pushing for significant reforms. At the end of the article, Jim thanked "all of the people in West Virginia who took the time and effort to discuss the current strike and the political work connected to it."2
Jim's first book was published that same year. Grass-Roots Socialism: Movements in the Southwest, 1895–1943 examined the evolution of radicalism from the Populist Movement to the emerging Socialism among farmers and industrial workers the early twentieth century. His 1980 book The World of the Worker: Labor in Twentieth-Century America surveyed labor history from the company towns of the coalfields in the early 1900s through the rise and decline of mass production unions after World War II. He was the sole author of three more books in his lifetime: Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements (2000), Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (2006), and The Devil Is Here in These Hills (2015).3
A professor of history and labor studies at the...