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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


Beginning in 1946, union coal miners were called out in a series of dramatic strikes by the man they had come to worship, John Llewellyn Lewis.

“If we must grind-up human flesh and bones in the industrial machine that we call modern America, then before God I assert that those who consume the coal and you and I who benefit from that service because we live in comfort; we owe protection to those men first and we owe security for their families if they die. I say it, I voice it, I proclaim it, and I care not who in heaven or hell opposes it.”

A union organizer from Iowa who had spent little time in a coal mine, Lewis overwhelmed friends and enemies alike. Lewis’s head, wrote a reporter, is the most impressive affair I have ever seen on top of a man’s neck. Lewis scowled so often that pictures of him smiling became collectors’ items.

Since seizing control of the UMWA in 1919, Lewis had become the most widely feared labor leader in America. One congressman called him a bushy-browed Hitler. “Think of me as a coal miner,” replied Lewis, “and you won’t make any mistakes.”

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