Labor organizer and four-time Socialist Party candidate for president, Eugene Victor Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) played a controversial role in the West Virginia coal strike of 1912–13, which spanned the terms of Governors Glasscock and Hatfield. The strike caused unprecedented violence between Baldwin-Felts mine guards and miners from Cabin and Paint creeks, near Charleston. Hatfield’s suppression of the press in early May of 1913 and his predecessor’s detention of scores of miners and their sympathizers, including Mother Jones, prompted a ten-day visit by a special committee of the Socialist Party of America led by Debs. Debs’s meeting with Hatfield caused a furor among the more radical socialist labor factions who accused Debs of ‘‘selling out.’’ Yet Debs helped bring the U.S. Senate to investigate the injustices of the West Virginia coalfields, later explaining his diplomacy in West Virginia as the only chance for the United Mine Workers of America to survive there.
In April 1919, Debs returned to West Virginia as an inmate of the West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville, where he served the first few months of a ten year sentence for opposing U.S. involvement in World War I and protesting President Wilson’s treatment of conscientious objectors. Among his visitors in prison was his close friend William Blenko of Milton, founder of Blenko Glass.
This Article was written by Thomas Douglass
Last Revised on October 15, 2012
Corbin, David A. Betrayal in the West Virginia Coal Fields: Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party of America, 1912-1914. Journal of American History, (1978).
Fagge, Roger. Eugene Debs in West Virginia, 1913: A Reappraisal. West Virginia History, (1993).
Cite This Article
Douglass, Thomas "Eugene Victor Debs." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 15 October 2012. Web. 25 March 2017.