Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Sam Church


Union leader Samuel Morgan Church Jr. (September 20, 1936-July 14, 2009) was born in Matewan. Both of his grandfathers had been miners, and his father worked as a miner before becoming a barber. Church’s family moved to Appalachia, Virginia, in 1944. Church attended Berea College for a year and then moved to Baltimore where he worked for Domino Sugar.

Church joined the United Mine Workers of America after taking a job as a miner with a Virginia coal company. In 1975, UMWA President Arnold Miller named Church to his staff. Church was elected vice-president of the UMWA in 1977, and in November 1979, he assumed the presidency following Miller’s resignation. During his three years as head of the union, Church worked to improve mine safety laws and to improve benefits for black lung victims and miners’ widows. In 1981, members rejected a contract that Church had negotiated and went on strike for 72 days. In November 1982, Church lost his bid for a full term to Richard Trumka.

He returned to work for a coal company in Virginia and remained active with the UMWA. Church died in Bristol, Tennessee. Following his death, Trumka paid tribute to Church saying, “He was a union man from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”

Written by Henry Franklin Tribe


  1. Clark, Paul F. The Miners’ Fight for Democracy: Arnold Miller and the Reform of the United Mine Workers. Ithaca NY: Cornell Studies in Industrial and Labor Relations, 1981.

  2. Fink, Gary M, ed.. Biographical Dictionary of American Labor. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984.

  3. Nyden, Paul J. Former UMWA President Sam Church Dies. The Charleston Gazette, July 14, 2009.

  4. Hevesi, Dennis. Sam Church, Who Led United Mine Workers, Dies at 72. The New York Times, July 16, 2009.

  5. Sam Church. United Mine Workers Journal, July/August 2009.

  6. Igo, Steve. Former UMW President Sam Church Dead at 72. Kingsport Times-News, July 14, 2009.

  7. Obituary. Bristol Herald-Courier, July 17, 2009.

  8. Fox, Maier B. United We Stand: The United Mine Workers of America 1890-1990. Washington: United Mine Workers of America, 1990.

  9. Samuel Morgan Church Jr. Current Biography, 1982.

  10. Brisbin, Richard A. A Strike Like No Other Strike: Law and Resistance during the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989-1990. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.