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Labor History: Battle of Blair Mountain

Posted by Jane Metters.
September 3rd, 2013

Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September, honoring the economic and social contributions of our country’s labor force.  The holiday gives us the chance to reflect on West Virginia’s labor history and one of the incidents that shaped it:  the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Sometimes described as one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed rebellion since the American Civil War, the Battle of Blair Mountain was part of the Miner’s March, which in turn was part of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Opposing interests of the southern West Virginia coal companies and those trying to unionize the southern West Virginia coal miners led to conflict.  From August 25 to September 2, 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, roughly 10,000 armed coal miners confronted roughly 3,000 state policemen, volunteer militiamen, and strikebreakers at Blair Mountain. The battle resulted in several deaths and ended after the United States Army intervened by Presidential order.

The WVRHC has preserved records of the Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology (IHTIA) pertaining to its work on Blair Mountain (A&M 3857).  The collection includes correspondence, typescripts, maps, clippings, photographs, and artifacts that pertain to the Blair Mountain reconnaissance survey, cultural resource survey and recording project, and symposium. Highlights include typescript copies of a report on the Blair Mountain Cultural Resource Survey and Recording Project and shell casings found on Blair Mountain that might date to the battle.

Photograph of a semi-automatic Smith and Wesson, likely from the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Artifacts from Blair Mountain

Artifact tray containing shell casings found during survey of Blair Mountain.

The WVRHC also has records of the miners' treason trials on microfilm (A&M 979).  The majority of the collection consists of case papers for the trials of miners and labor leaders Walter Allen, William Blizzard, C. Frank Keeney, Reverend J.E. Wilburn, and John Wilburn.

Want to find more resources on the labor history of West Virginia?  Check out the “Coal, Industry, Labor, Railroads, Transportation” page of the Appalachian Studies Bibliography compiled by WVU Librarian Jo B. Brown.  Additional resources pertaining to Blair Mountain and labor history include oral histories, local experts, and printed ephemera.  For more assistance, ask a librarian!

Blog post by Jane Metters.

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