Frank Keeney

January 17, 1947: Labor Lawyer Harold Houston Dies in Florida

Jan 17, 2020
In later years, he was involved in an automobile dealership and a real estate addition in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Labor lawyer Harold Houston died in Florida on January 17, 1947, at age 74. When he was young, his parents moved from Ohio to Jackson County and then to Charleston.

In 1901, after getting a law degree from West Virginia University, Houston opened a legal practice in Parkersburg.

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.

Courtesy of Dale Payne

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.