Battle of Blair Mountain

January 30, 1920: UMWA Mobilizes to Unionize W.Va.

Jan 30, 2020
Mingo County
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 30, 1920, the United Mine Workers of America launched a concerted effort to unionize southern West Virginia. Relations between the UMWA and coal operators had regularly turned violent over the previous 30 years.

However, the two sides had reached a tenuous truce during World War I. During the 19 months the United States was involved in the war, coal production soared and miners’ wages rose.

Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


It's been nearly a century since thousands of pro-union miners marched into Logan County, West Virginia, to protest abuses by coal operators in what used to be largely anti-union territory.

August 30, 1921: John Wilburn Leads Miners Against Blair Mountain

Aug 30, 2019

On August 30, 1921, John Wilburn of Blair assembled between 50 and 75 armed men to attack Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin’s troops, which were entrenched at the pinnacle of Blair Mountain.

The 45-year-old coal miner and Baptist preacher told his followers it was time for him to lay down his Bible, take up his rifle, and fight for the union.

August 28 1921: Armed Miners March on Blair Mountain

Aug 28, 2019
Heidi Perov / WV Humanities Council

In August 1921, armed coal miners from the Kanawha Valley and the southern counties of Boone, Fayette, Mingo, McDowell, and Logan gathered at Marmet in Kanawha County. The miners proposed to march to Logan and Mingo counties to rescue union miners who had been jailed or mistreated in attempts to unionize the mines. Their efforts brought on the most spectacular confrontation in West Virginia’s labor history, the culminating event in the era known as the Mine Wars.

March 19, 1931: West Virginia United Mine Workers Union Founded

Mar 19, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via West Virginia State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

The West Virginia Mine Workers Union was founded on March 19, 1931. It was a radical alternative to the United Mine Workers of America, known as the UMWA. The new union was the brainchild of Frank Keeney, who had been a key UMWA leader during the West Virginia Mine Wars.

After the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, UMWA national president John L. Lewis began exerting greater control over local union matters. The year after the battle, Keeney had agreed to a temporary wage cut for miners. Lewis used the wage cuts as an excuse to fire Keeney.

January 23, 1888: Labor Leader Fred Mooney Born

Jan 23, 2019
This was a particularly active period in the Mine Wars—a violent time that pitted miners against coal operators.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Labor leader Fred Mooney was born in Kanawha County on January 23, 1888. At age 13, he began working in coal mines as a trapper boy. 

Six years later, at the young age of 19, he became secretary-treasurer of District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America.

August 9, 1954: Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin Died

Aug 9, 2018
In 1921, Chafin led the resistance to the miners’ armed march on Logan County.
E-WV

On August 9, 1954, former Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin died in Huntington at age 67. Chafin had been elected Logan County assessor at the young age of 21 and sheriff at 25. After a term as county clerk, he was reelected sheriff in 1920.

  

Sheriff Chafin bitterly opposed labor unions, and, with funding from coal companies, used his deputies—including ones hired off the street—to keep the United Mine Workers of America out of Logan County.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  Labor leader Bill Blizzard died on July 31, 1958, at age 65. The Kanawha County native was the son of two passionate union activists.

Courtesy of Kenneth King and the WV Mine Wars Museum

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum has received a $30,000 challenge grant for a project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 2021.

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced the grant last week. The museum is located in Matewan.

Blair Mountain Battlefield
WV Humanitites Council

On August 30, 1921, John Wilburn of Blair assembled between 50 and 75 armed men to attack Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin’s troops, which were entrenched at the pinnacle of Blair Mountain.

The 45-year-old coal miner and Baptist preacher told his followers it was time for him to lay down his Bible, take up his rifle, and fight for the union.

Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin
e-WV / WV Humanitites Council

On August 9, 1954, former Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin died in Huntington at age 67. Chafin had been elected Logan County assessor at the young age of 21 and sheriff at 25. After a term as county clerk, he was reelected sheriff in 1920.

Sheriff Chafin bitterly opposed labor unions, and, with funding from coal companies, used his deputies—including ones hired off the street—to keep the United Mine Workers of America out of Logan County.

May 27, 1922: Labor Leader Bill Blizzard Acquitted of Treason Charges

May 27, 2016
e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 27, 1922, a jury acquitted labor leader Bill Blizzard of committing treason against West Virginia. The charges were related to the recent Battle of Blair Mountain. Blizzard was one of several more radical leaders who’d risen to power in the United Mine Workers of America during the 1910s. After the battle, prosecutors brought Blizzard to trial first, believing they had the best case against him.

blairmountain.org

A federal judge in Washington has ruled that the U.S. Interior Department was wrong when it removed the site of the Blair Mountain labor battle from the National Register of Historic Places.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that Monday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton granted a motion for summary judgment sought by groups that challenged a 2009 decision that Blair Mountain should be delisted.

Credit Courtesy Of WV State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

This past weekend, over 500 people visited Matewan, West Virginia to catch a glimpse of a new museum that tells the story of a dark and bloody time in West Virginia’s labor history.