CLASS 3: AUGUST 20 – THE 1931 COAL STRIKE
INSTRUCTOR: DR. HAL GORBY
Auditorium, Ohio County Public Library
Abstract: When historians think of the mine wars, images of miners fighting for unionism in the face of evictions and Baldwin Felts detectives are common. Places like Paint Creek, Blair Mountain, and “Bloody Harlan” come to mind. Similar conflicts took place in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle Field from 1919-1931. Fueling Wheeling’s booming steel industry, by the 1920’s thousands of “new immigrants” and African-Americans found work in the expanding coal mines near Elm Grove, Triadelphia, and Warwood on the city’s periphery. However, by the mid-1920’s the defeat of the UMWA in Southern West Virginia emboldened the Panhandle’s coal operators. Building on the nearby Hitchman Coal & Coke’s “yellow dog contracts,” companies evicted miners from company housing in a series of contract disputes in the mid-1920’s. By 1931, as “Bloody Harlan” took center stage in the press, Ohio County’s immigrant miners’ strike received support from the Communist-led National Miners Union. The strike witnessed armed guards, state police, and striking miners from both the UMWA and NMU. While not as well known as “Bloody Harlan,” this multi-racial workforce of coal diggers fought for a better life and set the stage for the union victories of the CIO in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the Upper Ohio Valley.