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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


In the spring of 1912, coal miners from Paint Creek, ten miles south of Charleston, walked off the job and operators refused to renew their union contract. In nearby Cabin Creek, non-union miners joined the strike. We have to get out of the oppression of the coal barons, said one.

At issue was the union itself. Since its founding in 1890, the United Mine Workers of America had made little progress in southern West Virginia. Union organizers were harassed and beaten by company guards. In some counties it was illegal to even discuss a strike.

In May, Paint Creek operators hired three hundred guards from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency of Bluefield. Their job was to protect company property and evict striking miners from company houses.

Lon Savage: The evictions were just mean, vicious things and the detectives did it in a mean, vindictive kind of way. One woman, Maude Fish, was at breakfast when they came and she said give me time to finish my breakfast and they said you’ve had time and they carried out her breakfast and sat it on the road along with everything else she owned.

There was a funeral early in the afternoon. A highly respected lady there on Paint Creek had died. When they got out of the church they went home and found their furniture had been set out on the road and they no longer had a home. Those were the kinds of things that just infuriated the miners and drove them to violence.

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