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Inside Appalachia, W.Va. Mine Wars History


Not many Americans know the story of the Mine Wars that were fought between workers, labor unions and mine company guards during the early 1900s. In this show, Jessica Lilly talks with filmmaker Randy MacLowry, whose new PBS documentary The Mine Wars focuses on these armed uprisings by labor organizers in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

Was the Mine Wars One of the Sources of Negative Appalachian Stereotypes?

We’ve talked a lot on this show lately about who gets to tell Appalachia’s story. This can get kind of touchy because, well, we’ve been burned before.  Even during our struggle for dignity and constitutional rights, the national media was quick to dismiss what they called an “uncivilized” group of Appalachian people.

West Virginia historian Chuck Keeney says many of the national perceptions of us Appalachians may have started during the mine wars.  These stereotypes continue to this day.

Credit W.Va. Mine Wars Museum
Visitors at the Mine Wars Museum in Matewan, W.Va.

Also in this episode:

  • The Mine Wars history hasn’t been taught by most public school history teachers. We'll from one West Virginia history buff who's hoping to change that.
  • People down in southern West Virginia who say they’re proud to see the history of the mine wars getting more attention through a new Mine Wars Museum.   
  • We'll also explore the story behind the word "Redneck" and what it has to do with the history of the West Virginia Mine Wars.

Wilma Lee Steele is one of the board members of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan.
Credit W.Va. Mine Wars Museum

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We’d love to hear from you.  You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd.

Music in this show was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., Ben Townsend, the late Hazel Dickens, Hurray For the Riff Raff as heard on Mountain Stage, Time Eriksen and Riley Baugus from the album Blair Pathways.  You also heard music by Alan “Cathead” Johnston with help from Stacy Grubb from the soundtrack of the play "The Terror of the Tug".

Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition.


Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.