Part of the rest of the story of the trial can be told in the words of day-by-day newspaper accounts. Some of the events they reported were merely colorful; others were unbelievable; the total effect was shocking. It became difficult for outsiders to believe that Harlan County was a part of the United States of America. We'll begin with a typical report out of London, Kentucky, dated May 27.
The star witness of today was a little 57-year-old lady in a polka dot dress, by the name of Bell Lane, who told of her experiences at a union mass meeting on the first Sunday in July 1935. She was cursed and struck by an armed deputy sheriff when she screamed a protest at another deputy who was beating the speaker. She said the meeting was held at Evarts and Preacher Marshall Musick was the speaker. She said the deputies were blowing their car horns to drown out the speaker's voice. "I saw Merle Middleton, George Lee, Frank White and John Hickey beat up 'Rock House' Mullhollen (a big, but outnumbered, loyal union coal miner from Evarts, Kentucky)." Charles Scott, a bass-voiced Negro, said that he was working at Verda and when he became sick, Lee Fleenor evicted him from his house. "Threw my furniture and stuff out in the road. I asked him why and he said 'G______. n you, we got orders from Mr. Bassham'." After he got well, he went to work at Green Silvers Mine, owned by Sheriff Middleton.
"When I signed up with the union, Sheriff Middleton asked me why I had signed up with the union and I told him I thought it was a free country. He threw back his coat and showed his badge and said, 'I am the rule in Harlan County. If my baby would speak to a damn union man, I would take my pistol and blow its brains out. You get out of here and don't look back'. I asked him if I could get my tools and he said, damn you and your tools, too. Get on across that foot log'."
"Did you ever go back after your tools?" asked Brian McMahon. "No, that was the law talking", said the witness.
On cross-examination, Dawson asked the witness: "Did the officer serve you with a forcible detainer?" Scott looked up and said, "Forci-which?", and everyone in the courtroom laughed, including the judge. John Severa, a miner at Jack Taylor's mine at High Splint, testified that he went to a union meeting and was kicked out of the hollow by Frank White. He said that White kicked him and told him if he ever came back in the hollow, he would kill him. Timothy Huff testified that he worked at Louellen from September 1936, to January 1937. He said the cut boss (section foreman) came around and asked him to sign a paper. It was a company union paper, Huff said. Subsequently he said that R. E. (Uncle Bob) Lawson addressed two meetings and told the men if they stayed at Louellen they would have to join the company union. Mr. and Mrs. George Gilbert testified about threats at Totz and shots being fired into their house; and being fired and evicted by the Harlan Central Company. All of these were government witnesses. On June 11, Mrs. Marshall Musick retold the story of the murder of her son, Bennett, by gun thugs. Kelly Fox testified that he was an eyewitness to the February 9 shooting and identified Frank White as one of the men who did the shooting. Dawson asked Fox if he had not told Slemp Middleton that George Titler had paid "you $200.00 to testify before the LaFollette Committee", and that he would leave the County and not testify for $1,000.00. Fox answered, "No, sir." The government closed its case on June 17. A newspaper account related the sensational events of that day. It reported:
LONDON, KY. June 17 — The closing minutes filled with stories of an alleged "perjury factory" where prospective witnesses were asked to make false affidavits, and marked by a short clash between opposing counsel, the government has reached the end of its long conspiracy case against Harlan County coal companies, operators and deputy sheriffs.
The prosecution rested at 3:30 Thursday afternoon after delivering the long awaited "knockout punch" with the testimony of Ernest Huff and Avery Eggers, both of Ages. Huff is a young miner employed by the Harlan Wallins Coal Company and Eggers is a youth of 14. Both Huff and Eggers said they were taken to the little office in Merle Middleton's garage and asked to make the false affidavits. Huff said he refused to sign. Eggers said he signed but didn't think he made an oath that it was true because "I didn't hold up my right hand". Eggers said he signed the false affidavit because he was afraid not to, while Huff said he had been kept in jail here in London at his own request for fear "something would happen to him" if he were on the streets.
Huff told of being halted in front of Lee Hubbard's poolroom at Ages and asked to go inside to a back room where Hubbard wanted to talk to him about some "important business". In response to questions by Brian McMahon, chief of government Council, Huff told this story: "On Sunday, May 29, my wife and I walked down to Ages to do some trading. As we passed Lee Hubbard's poolroom, Luther Hyde called to me and said Lee Hubbard wanted to see me inside. I went in and Hubbard said, 'Jack, I've got some very important business to talk over with you. Can you come back down here a little later?' "I said I didn't think I could and he said he would come up to the house after me. About ten minutes after I got back home Hubbard drove up with Luther Hyde and some others. They asked me to go back down town.
"On the way we stopped at Eddie Brackett's house and Luther Hyde went up to the house. While he was gone Hubbard said to me, 'You remember the night you were in my pool room, the night when the Musick boy was killed?' I said I didn't remember it.
"Luther Hyde and Eddie Brackett came down in the car and then we drove to the garage of Merle Middleton's and went in. Lee Hubbard said to Middleton, 'Well, we've got five — what will we do with them?'
"Middleton said: 'Take them out and get them to make the affidavits and then we'll take them over and swear them.' "A few minutes later Hubbard called me back into the office. Middleton was sitting at the desk and Hubbard was standing up. They filled out a paper and handed it to me. I said I couldn't read. "Can you read?" broke in McMahan. "No, sir" Huff replied. He then continued:
"Hubbard said I’ll read it to you'. Then he started to read the paper. It said that I was in Lee Hubbard's poolroom on the night of February 9 from about six o'clock and got in a nine ball game with Frank Alien. Then, it said, Lee Hubbard got in the game and played with us a while and then Wash Irwin came in and got in the game.
After a while, the paper said, a big black car drove up and the horn blew. Wash Irwin went outside and we held up the game until he came back. He came in and hung up his cue, so when we played on without him, the game going on until about half past ten.
"I asked them what the paper meant and Middleton said 'Well, you have heard that Lee Hubbard killed the Musick boy. This just says you know he didn't because you were playing pool with him that night.'
"I said that couldn't be so because I didn't play pool.
"I laid the statement down on the desk and said I wanted to step out and buy some cigarettes. I went out and tried to get a taxi, but I couldn't find one. So, I started to walk home and a man came along and picked me up. After I got home I started to think about it and got scared, so I went over to my brother's house and told him about it.
"Was there any truth at all in the statement they wanted you to sign?" McMahon asked.
"No, there was not", Huff answered. Later he saw Hubbard again, Huff said, and Hubbard asked:
"Where did you go when we wanted you to sign the affidavit?"
"I said: 'went home.'
"He said: 'you didn't even sign the paper."
"I said: 'No, and I'm not going to.'
"Then Hubbard said: 'If you don't believe Pearl Bassham and Mr. Cornett are with us on this just get in the car and I'll drive you over there. You can have anything you want."
"I said: 'Mr. Bassham and Mr. Cornett haven't got anything I want!"
Eggers was first asked to tell of an incident at the home of Ben Wilburn, next-door neighbor of the Eggers, more than a year ago. He said Wilburn came home from work one afternoon and a few minutes later Wash Irwin and Lee Hubbard followed him. They soon reappeared, Eggers said, bringing Wilburn along. They pushed him off the porch and then Lee Hubbard kicked the fallen man several times in the back, saying: "Get up from there, you sorry S.O.B. You can't lay that on me." The officers then put Wilburn in a car and drove off, Eggers said.
Following his account of this incident, young Eggers was asked if he had seen Lee Hubbard recently. He said he had, about two weeks ago. This is what he said occurred at that time.
"Sammy Thomas came and got me and said Lee Hubbard wanted to see me. He took me to Hubbard's house. His wife and a girl were there. Hubbard asked me if I remembered the time when he arrested Ben Wilburn and I said I did and told him all about it. "Then he said he wanted me to say Mrs. Wilburn had run out on the porch right after Ben came home and called for the law and that I went and got the law. Then he said he wanted me to say I overheard Wash Irwin ask him to go along when he went up to see what the trouble was at the Willburns." "Was any of that true?" asked McMahon.
"No, sir," the boy answered.
"Did he ever say anything to you about money?"
"Yes. Lee Hubbard said he would give me a job at $5.00 a day if I'd tell them lies for him." Eggers said Hubbard took him, Eddit Brackett, Luther Hyde and Jack Huff to Merle Middleton's garage, where Middleton wrote an affidavit. Eggers said every time he tried to tell what actually happened at the Wilburns, Hubbard would break in and dictate to Middleton what to write.
After the affidavit had been prepared, Eggers said, a man whom he did not know took him to the Black Motor Company office where he signed the paper.
"But I didn't hold up my right hand," he said.
Asked if he thought he had to hold up his right hand before the oath would be legal, he said he did. Mr. McMahon then asked Eggers why he had signed.
"I was afraid not to," the boy answered.
On cross-examination defense counsel Dawson said: "You said you signed because you were afraid. You're pretty scary, aren't you? "You're dad-gummed right. I'm afraid of all of 'em", the boy replied.
Both Huff and Eggers underwent stiff cross-examination but both stuck stoutly to their stories. I personally attended many sessions of the conspiracy trial. The newspaper stories already quoted tell many of the highlights of the incredible events that took place. It is impossible to print in this book all of my recollections but I do remember bits of testimony that were particularly vivid. Henry Lewis, Chief Deputy for Sheriff Middleton, testified that the Sheriff had asked him to go with him one Saturday night to Verda to keep some miners from speaking. He said he refused to go and on Monday the Sheriff asked him why he did not show up. "You could have made a little extra money", said Middleton.
Lewis said the Sheriff had a private room back of his office that was known as the "whispering room" where the Sheriff and his deputies met to make plans. The room known as the "whispering room" contained a big safe filled with high-powered rifles and shotguns. Clinton C. Ball, Jailor, testified that in the four years he was Jailer the Sheriff had jailed about 14,000 persons. He said that shortly after "I took office, the Sheriff called me down to the whispering room and complained that the assistant jailors are testifying against his deputy sheriffs in swearing that the prisoners brought in on drunken charges were sometimes not drunk."
"If we are going to get along, we are going to have to work together", Ball quoted the Sheriff as telling him.
On one occasion Ball said Fayette Cox and Frank White brought in a miner named Green Cornett. "I refused to jail him because he wasn't drunk," Ball said. "Then I asked him where Marshall Musick could be found and he said he didn't know. They told him they would arrest him if he did not talk. Cornett asked me to put him in jail because he was afraid the deputies would kill him. I locked him up for the night in a courthouse room."
Union miners from the R. C. Tway Coal Company testified that they, when they joined the union, were sent to Raven Rock, a place where the coal was little and the water and slate were big, where a miner could not make a living.
Miners from Clover Fork at Kitts testified that when they joined the union, they were transferred to Turnblazer's Home (named after the District president), a place similar to Raven Rock. Martha Howard, a good-looking girl from Harlan, said she had been offered $50.00 for each organizer she could lure to a place where the thugs could work them over. On June 10, a murder away from the trial scene shocked the court. Lester Smithers, a government witness and president of the local union at Yancy, was shot and killed while he distributed commodities to the unemployed miners of this local union. His murderers were two brothers, Verlin and Clyde Fee, non-union miners. I had sent Smithers, a fine, outstanding union man, who was donating his services to the union, on his mission. Eyewitnesses told me that the Fee brothers had apparently been paid by somebody to kill Smithers. They planned for one to start a fight with Smithers and then the other was to shoot him. It worked out as planned. Sheriff Cawood's chief deputy investigated the killing and testified that Fee shot in self-defense. This was cold-blooded murder.
According to the report of the deputy sheriff, these two men had been drunk and quarreling all day, but the facts are that Smithers left the warehouse one-and-a-half hours before he was killed with a truckload of groceries and was as sober as a judge when he left me. In fact, I never knew of his drinking. Eyewitnesses said that when the Fee boys started the argument with Smithers they called him a snitcher because he had been subpoenaed before the court in London. The operators were obviously not happy because the union was feeding the men who were fired because of their union activities. Smithers was a fly in their ointment. The man who committed this murder went scot-free.
The defense then began its parade of witnesses. But Charlie Dawson's legal pyrotechnics were soon over-shadowed by more sensational happenings. One of these took place on July 6 when the notorious Frank White, one of the toughest of the toughs, was shot to death at the Miles Tourist Camp, two miles from Corbin, Kentucky, where most of the defendants and defense witnesses in the conspiracy trial were staying. Chris Patterson, a former deputy sheriff who had only the day before been subpoenaed as a government witness, was at first charged with White's murder. The charge was based on a statement by gun thug Bob Eldridge who said he saw Patterson shoot White. Patterson stoutly denied the killing, but refused to say any more. This shooting was thoroughly investigated by agents of the FBI. Their findings showed that Patterson had been released from jail in Pineville in order to testify as a government witness at the London trial. Sheriff Middleton persuaded him (with a bottle of whiskey) to stay at the Miles Tourist Camp where he was to be the "fall guy" in the murder of Frank White. White's removal had become necessary, not because he was disloyal to the thugs, but because he had proved to be such a stupid witness at the LaFollette Committee hearings that the operators feared he would accidentally blurt out the truth on the witness stand during the conspiracy trial. To set the stage, White was told that he should pick a fight with Patterson, and that another thug, whom the FBI called "Mr. X", would kill Patterson. When the fracas started, "Mr. X", instead of shooting Patterson, shot over his shoulder and killed White. The story would have a happy ending for the thugs if and when Patterson was convicted of White's murder.
But the crew of hoodlums decided they could not chance a trial. Chris Patterson spent a couple of weeks in the London jail under $3,000.00 bond, but was released when Theodore Middleton put up that amount of money for his release. Chris was at liberty for a couple of weeks, when two gunmen picked him up in a car in Harlan one dark and stormy night. He was found the next morning lying along the road, his body riddled with bullets, obviously murdered by the same men who killed Frank White. The lips of another eyewitness were sealed forever.
A couple of days earlier another murder had swiped the headlines from Dawson's antics. The murdered was Lee Fleenor, perhaps the most cold-blooded thug of them all. His victim was Charlie Reno, a Harlan County miner, who was driving from Harlan County to London to appear as a government witness. Fleenor also had another reason to shoot the miner. Reno had killed Fleenor's father and served time for it. The murder occurred on the highway when Fleenor spotted Reno lying under his car, making emergency road repair. He shot him to death. But Reno's twelve-year-old son managed to surprise Fleenor, using a gun in his father's car to fire several shots, one of which creased the back of Fleenor's skull. Fleenor was never tried for this murder. As previously in this book, Fleenor was later sent back to the penitentiary by Governor Chandler at my request. After serving his stretch, he was paroled with the understanding that he would never return to the state. He went to Southwest Virginia where he now lives and works. On July 22, further evidence of existence of a "perjury mill" being run by counsel for the operators was brought out in the London courtroom. Involved were Lee Fleenor's uncle, Everett Fleenor, and a Harlan attorney, E. B. Spicer, who had paid witnesses to testify falsely about the murder of Bennett Musick. Key witness was Albert Hoskins, who had previously testified for the defense that he had been in Bryan Middleton's saloon the night of the murder and had seen Belton Youngblood, one of the UMWA's organizers, and Granville, Sargent, a government witness, buy two pints of whiskey and leave on a mysterious errand with other unidentified men in two cars. Hoskins had also sworn that Youngblood and Sargent later returned and bought more liquor. It was alleged that the Musick boy was slain during their absence.
On July 22, Hoskins completely retracted his previous testimony. He said Everett Fleenor who offered him $50.00 in “easy money” had approached him at Evarts. All he had to do to earn the money was "to accuse Belton Youngblood and Granville Sargent of murder." Then, Hoskins stated, Fleenor took him, Vernon Kelly and John Barnes to attorney Spicer's office in Harlan. Hoskins said the three youths waited in an anteroom while Fleenor conferred with Spicer. Fleenor then came out and told them exactly what they were to say. They were then taken into Spicer's office where the attorney told them that things were not "quite ready." The next day, Hoskins testified, they returned and signed statements that had been typed by Spicer's secretary, after which Fleenor took them to the washroom and paid them the. First $25.00 of the $50.00 they had been promised. Hoskins got $20.00 more from Fleenor the day he took the witness stand at the conspiracy trial and the last $5.00 a few days later.
Despite a grueling cross-examination by Chief Defense Counsel Dawson, Hoskins stuck by his guns. He said that he had decided to confess publicly to his false testimony because "I got to studying about it and knowed I done wrong."
Hoskins testimony was supported by John Barnes who also described the Fleenor-Spicer offer, but said that he later decided not to testify in court, so received only $25.00. The Hoskins-Barnes story received more credence when the FBI presented evidence proving that Bryan Middleton's saloon had not been in business the night of the Musick murder, February 9. Abner Turner, a silent partner in the saloon, said that the place had not opened until February 25, after being closed by the previous owner, Slimp Middleton, on January 23, Liquor, beer, and cigarette license receipts confirmed the February 25 date. The sensational perjury testimony continued with the stories of Mrs. Lelia Bartlett and Mrs. Ester Parley, sisters, who for the first time laid the subornation of perjury activity squarely on Spicer. Their testimony was that Ben Cawood, an officer, came to their homes and told them Spicer wanted to talk to them. They went to Harlan with Cawood, both testified, and were told by Spicer that the defense "needed witnesses" in the conspiracy trial. "We talked about the trial here", Mrs. Bartlett testified, "and I asked him what they were doing in London. He said 'they're lawing like hell.' Then he said he wanted us to come down here and be defense witnesses.
"I asked him what he wanted me to say and he said I was to say that me and Ester was walking down the street in Evarts one day a few days after the Musick boy was killed and that we overheard Tick Arnett say to another man, 'It's too bad the Musick boy got killed, but we thought they were all away from home. But maybe it will all be for the best because this will build up a lot of sympathy for us. Sometimes accidents are the very best things that can happen'."
Mrs. Bartlett said she told Spicer that she didn't even know Arnett and would not recognize him. Despite this protest, she said, Spicer dictated a statement to the stenographer and she and Mrs. Parley signed it. They took a copy of the statement back home where their father read it. Later they decided to refuse to come to London, she said, and never went back to Spicer's office. Both women said they had known the attorney for about five years. Mrs. Parley's testimony was similar to that of her sister. She added that Spicer told them he was "making arrangements to take a carload of witnesses down to London and pay them $25.00 apiece and expenses for one day." She said Spicer asked them if $25.00 each was sufficient. Both said they did not reply. Both said they never got any money because it was promised to them only if they testified.
James Lankford was the last witness of the day on that story of perjury. He said he was asked by Spicer on two occasions to be a witness for the defense concerning the Musick killing, but that he refused to do so. He did not say that he was offered any money for being a witness. Before the perjury testimony had started the Government concluded its proof that Youngblood was in Pineville on the night young Musick was killed and could not have been at Evarts. Several Pineville residents and members of the union-organizing group testified previously that Young-blood was at the Continental Hotel in Pineville. L. T. Arnett, James Golden, Pineville attorney who represented the UMWA, and Youngblood himself, corroborated this story.
After the sensation in the newspapers about perjury, the trial continued to drone along. But no one was bored. At one point, Judge Ford nearly declared a mistrial and warned the operators and thugs — particularly Merle Middleton — that any "monkey business" with the jury would land them in jail. Middleton had attempted to frighten and influence jurors by having his uncle parade in public with their relatives. Dewey and Anna Hensley who testified that Mose Middleton had asked them to provide a false alibi for himself and Merle Middleton for July 7, 1935, when a union rally at Evarts was broken up by a group of deputies, gave further perjury testimony. Hensley said that Mose suggested, "$100.00 was a good amount", but that he turned the offer down flat.
Just before the lawyers began their summing up, a last sensation sent the news hounds scurrying for telephones. A union miner, Boyd Isom, told the court that the Harlan Central Coal Company withheld medical care from his baby son that resulted in his death. He said that Harry Bennett, son of the mine owner, told him "if I hadn't joined the union I could have got doctor treatment for my baby before it died." A newspaper account stated: "The effect of the statement was electrical. A woman in the audience gasped audibly and a deputy marshal rapped sharply for order." The newspaper report continued: "In the dead stillness that followed, Dawson turned savagely on the witness (Isom) in cross-examination. 'As a matter of fact, don't you know your baby got treated by the company doctor every time you called for him?' Dawson asked. I know he didn't, the witness replied." This action was inhuman but typical of the Harlan operators' method. The government began its summing up of the case with a seven-hour presentation by Welly Hopkins. The eloquent young Texan ripped the case of the defense to bits, describing it as mere "explanations and evasions" and according to a contemporary newspaper account "declared in a ringing voice to the jury that 'if you want to see more blood spilled in Harlan County — if you want to see perjury run rampant — you can say so by a verdict of acquittal'." Hopkins took up each company, individual coal operator and deputy sheriff in turn and summed up all the evidence against them. He said that evidence in individual cases might seem relatively insignificant, but when considered collectively "it pyramided to a point where the conclusion that a planned conspiracy existed was inescapable."
The summing up continued, featuring a duel of wits between Dawson and the government's Schweinhaut. McMahon, chief counsel for the U. S., who ably reviewed the case against the Harlan County Coal operators, presented the concluding argument.
The case finally was turned over to the jury on July 30, after fifty-seven days of testimony. Judge Ford asked the jurors, shirt-sleeved and gallused farmers and small tradesmen from the surrounding hills, to consider carefully the credibility of the witnesses accused by the attorneys as perjurers. He instructed that the National Labor Relations Board testimony given by George Ward and Ben Unthank, assigned to the Association, was to be considered by them. After three days of deliberation, the jury reported to Judge Ford on August 2 that it was hopelessly deadlocked. The foreman, L. F. Johnson of Clay County, said its members were divided seven-to-five for conviction. The hung jury was no surprise to observers on the scene. It was made up of farmers and small businessmen whose ideology resembled that of the defendants in many ways. Some of them, although not related by blood to the defendants, had married into their families. Some of the jury members, like the Harlan County thugs and their employers, did not believe in collective bargaining and hated all labor unions and their members. The jury, like the defendants, did not believe that the war in Harlan County should be settled in court. The code of the hills, which they faithfully followed, provided that differences between man should be settled by gun and that the man who is "right" in an argument is the man who is able to walk away from a duel.
Government attorneys went through the motions of seeking a new trial, but this was merely for the records. The Harlan conspiracy trial, for all practical purposes, ended on August 2. No one was convicted legally or sent to jail. But the Harlan County operators and their thugs were convicted of being their ugly, bestial selves before the greatest court of them all — the opinion of the American public.
We were all weary of litigation after the Harlan conspiracy trial. The Department of Justice and the defendants were particularly anxious not to go through the ordeal again, so a movement was initiated to settle the labor-management situation in Harlan County in another way. The operators agreed to meet with representatives of the NLRB and the UMWA to negotiate a contract. For twenty-six days bargaining continued under the careful scrutiny of John R. Steelman of the U. S. Labor Department's Conciliation Service and Phillip G. Phillips of the NLRB. On August 27, 1938, an agreement was signed at Knoxville, Tennessee, that placed 12,000 miners in Harlan County under union protection. U. S. Steel's operation at Lynch, Kentucky, with 3,000 employees, was already signed up by the UMWA. The contract was signed by R. C. Tway, W. Arthur Ellison and W. H. Sinkecht for the Harlan Association, and by William Turnblazer, myself and Jonh Sexton for the United Mine Workers of America. O. E. Gassoway, International Board Member from Indiana, assisted the UMWA in the negotiations.
After the contract was signed, Turnblazer and I left Knoxville to drive to Jellico, then headquarters town for District 19. On our trip home, an incident occurred that has absolutely nothing to do with this story but which still gives me a chuckle whenever I think of it. When we reached Jacksboro, county seat of Campbell County, Bill espied an old friend sitting on his front porch close to the courthouse. Bill stopped and introduced him to me as Squire Clem Perkins. I learned later that besides being Justice of the Peace, Clem was also the county's most successful bootlegger. He was bewhiskered and had a large Bible on his lap when I met him.
Said Turnblazer, "Clem, I didn't know that you were a Bible-reading man."
"I ain't," said Clem, "but three weeks ago I bought a case of Scotch whiskey from a fellow in Cincinnati by the name of Lazarus and I want to order some more. So I have read this book from kiver to kiver trying to learn how to spell Lazarus."
When Turnblazer and I got back to Jellico the miners greeted all of our negotiators as conquering heroes. Five thousand happy coal miners and members of their families paraded through the streets, celebrating our victory. It was a beautiful feeling, "Something attempted, something done, had earned us a night's repose." There was peace in Harlan for the next six months. During that brief period when the 1938 contract was in effect, all officials of the union, beginning with John L. Lewis, attempted to cement the bargaining machinery and create an atmosphere of good will between the contracting parties to the contract. Field workers spent on an average of sixteen hours a day, every day of the week, conferring with different groups of mine workers and teaching them the rudiments of collective bargaining.
The Harlan County Coal Operators also knew nothing about collective bargaining and for years had been used to obtaining their objectives by force. Changing to collective bargaining and reason was something that was foreign to their mode of thinking and was hard for them to swallow. We tried to educate them for six months, but this ended on April 1, 1939, when all of the cold miners in the nation went on strike.
The national strike lasted until May 15. You don't need more than one guess as to which was the only operators' group in the United States that refused to sign an agreement with the UMWA. Of course, it was the Harlan Association. They had not been acting in good faith when they signed the 1938 agreement, but were only trying to get out from under their indictment by the Federal government. How well their strategy had succeeded soon became apparent.
When the national strike started our members stood fast in Harlan County. When the operators refused to sign on May 15, they continued to stick by their guns. As many labor union veterans know, the biggest problem faced in a strike situation is maintaining solidarity. This is another way of saying that the strikers' morale must be kept high and this is nearly impossible unless you are able to provide them with minimum food and shelter. Our first problem in Harlan County in 1939 began immediately when we realized that the union would have to provide food for some of the strikers who immediately become destitute when their employment ceased on April 1. We established a large warehouse and began to buy food products to feed the families of nine thousand strikers. At first, for a couple of weeks, the job was small, but thereafter the need increased constantly. Huge amounts of food were bought and distributed at virtually all of the coal camps in Harlan County. Some of my greatest help during this time came from a boy in his twenties, who was acting as my secretary, Matt Bunch's son, J. Carl Bunch. He bought and distributed to the miners groceries worth more than $300,000 and may have saved the UMWA, by wise purchasing, up to $60,000. During the organizing drives in Harlan County, from May 1, 1937 to September 1939, his shrewdness in buying was talked about by all of the organizers and people who knew him. It was not unusual for our volunteer labor crew to unload four boxcar loads of flour, beans, bacon, etc., in one day and to spend $10,000 per week for groceries. This was a sizeable, expensive operation that required careful, watchful management. The miners consumed over 2 million dollars worth of food in this strike.
The International Union and the Federal government did not only supply by the District, but food for the strikers also. The latter help became necessary when we were providing virtually all food eaten by nine thousand men and their families.
Carl Bunch soon discovered that he could not merely buy available food, distribute it and keep the people happy. Harlan County miners ate plain food, but they were particular about it. Carl once made the mistake of buying a carload of yellow corn meal and a carload of navy beans. The men would not touch the yellow corn meal. They insisted that corn bread had to be made from white corn meal and that yellow corn bread was "too strong for their blood." They were also persistent in their belief that white navy beans weren't fit to eat; that they must have pinto beans. So we bought white corn meal and pinto beans. One miner told me that he had tried to feed yellow corn bread to his hog, but that the hog had refused to touch it.
Our other basic problem, that of housing was a knotty legal one, involving company ownership of the houses in which the men lived. Its solution was in the long run as expensive to the union as providing food. The dispute over housing began long before we signed the 1938 agreement with the Harlan operators. In 1937, the operators persecuted known UMWA sympathizers by securing court orders for their eviction from company houses under illegal detainers. This made it necessary for the union to put up bond in escrow to cover twice the amount of rent due on the houses during the period it was under bond. There were hundreds of these cases on the court records when the 1938 contract was signed. After the contract was signed, it was necessary for both sides to go to court and ask that the cases be dropped. In many cases, the union paid rent for the people who had lived in these hundreds of houses for over a year.
The fact that the operators signed the 1938 agreement did not mean any drop in the UMWA's legal expenses in Harlan County. As a matter of fact, they seemed to increase steadily. As stated previously, most of the Harlan operators had signed the contract as a temporizing gesture, aimed at removing the threat of Federal prosecution for conspiracy. After they signed the contract, they spent their nights trying to figure ways to get rid of those men who were active in the union, using false allegations of unsatisfactory work, drunkenness and others too numerous to mention. Union men were jailed on trumped up charges, making it necessary for us to hire local lawyers to see that these men were not held in jail more than two days.
If absent for three days they would forfeit their rights of employment at the mine where they worked. The Mine Workers hired John Grady O'Hara, a young attorney just out of college, and Mr. and Mrs. John Doyle, two other attorneys in the city of Harlan, to make the rounds of the courthouse and jail each morning to see how many members of the UMWA were in jail on trumped-up charges. For those they found, our attorneys posted bond, paid their fines and got them back to work in time to save their jobs. This was quite a chore. The UMWA also retained the firm of Golden and Lay, in Pineville, outstanding attorneys, who were on a virtual fulltime basis for us in Harlan and Bell Counties. This meant that it was necessary for us to employ five local attorneys in addition to those employed by the International Union. Much time and effort was given toward the success of our organizing drive in Harlan County by the UMWA's Senior Counsel, Henry Warrum, widely and affectionately known as "Judge," and by Earl E. Houck, director of the UMWA's Legal Department. The International Union also retained on a regular basis the firm of Townsend & Townsend, Charleston, West Virginia, whose members spent much time in Harlan County affairs.
Our short-lived era of peace was drawing rapidly to a close, although we weren't yet aware of it. In New York City, the Nation's bituminous coal operators (except those in Harlan County) were ready to sign a new contract. But in Harlan County, Judge C. E. Ball warned that he had been "requested" to ask Governor Chandler for state troops to preserve peace. He made this remark while warning twenty-eight union men and two of their wives that they would have to stop "baptizing" nonunion members. It was alleged, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, that the union men and women had thrown some non-union miners into the Cumberland river near Evarts with the statement: "We baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and John L. Lewis."
Judge Ball declared "you can't take the law into your own hands," with the additional admonishment that if the "baptizing" continued "I will place you under a peace bond you can't make." He then warned that troops might be called in.
UMWA International Representative Paul K. Reed and Attorney James Golden also warned that violence might mean that strikebreaking Kentucky National Guardsmen would come into Harlan. "We want you and all others to refrain from these baptizings, because they will cause trouble, sooner or later," Reed declared. Golden said that success in Harlan County depended upon orderly behavior by union members. Reed also warned that "someone has asked for troops." He was right. The "someone" was Judge Ball. And the Governor, by now a lame duck captive of the Harlan operators and an avowed enemy of the UMWA, was more than willing to call out the troops and to take whatever other measures he deemed necessary to "bust the union" in Harlan County. The last period of prolonged violence in Harlan County began on the morning of May 15, 1939, when 850 Kentucky National Guardsmen, under the command of General Ellerbe Carter, rode in to take charge. They were there at the orders of Governor A. B. Chandler, who can be almost solely charged with responsibility for bloodshed during those turbulent weeks, along with a few recalcitrant Harlan operators, whose faithful servant he was.
The national strike had centered on the UMWA's insistence that a "union shop" clause be included in the National Bituminous Wage Agreement. This clause was legal at that time under the Wagner Act and a modified version of it still exists in our wage agreement and is legal under the much more restrictive Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin laws. All of the nation's operators, including those outside of Harlan in Eastern Kentucky, agreed to the union shop clause. Not the Harlan operators, though. They chose to use this as an excuse for another shot at breaking the union with the volunteered help of "Happy" Chandler and the Kentucky National Guard.
Before the troops marched, Chandler had issued a statement attempting to justify his proclamation of martial law. First of all, Chandler quoted from a letter written by Harlan County Judge, C. E. Ball, that said: "Conditions in Harlan County in connection with the labor situation have gradually grown worse during the past few weeks and have become so serious as to warrant a request for protection from the State." He, Ball, says: "It is the consensus of opinion of the people of the County, that 75 percent of the miners want to work if given protection." Later events proved Ball's estimate completely false. Only a small minority of Harlan County miners were willing to go back to work without the protection of a UMWA contract, in spite of the fact that the National Guard did prohibit picketing. Chandler then said: "During the last few weeks many miners who have desired to work have been intimidated and some of them seriously beaten." This was a deliberate falsehood. In his press statement Chandler then wrote: I am today in receipt of a petition from 123 non-union miners who work for the Clover Fork Coal Company, and whose representatives were Tess Walter, Franklin Martin and Willie Anderson, who have represented to me that the great majority of the miners desire to go back to work immediately and will go to work if given protection by the State." There is no doubt in my mind that "Happy" received a petition from 123 non-union miners. I would like to point out, however, that 123 is a hell of a lot shy of adding up to 75% of 12,000 miners, the number of men who were on strike.
Chandler then proclaimed: "The people of Kentucky and the Nation have become weary of this controversy. I have decided, in the event this controversy is not settled by the end of this week, that the National Guard will assemble at Harlan County on Monday morning, May 15th, with instructions to give protection to every citizen of Harlan County who desires to work in the mines upon terms and conditions acceptable to him and his employer." This was a pure and simple affirmation of his faith in the righteousness of strikebreaking.
One of the statements by Chandler was to the effect that our dispute in Harlan was not between the UMWA and management, but was in reality a jurisdictional spat between two unions, one chartered by the CIO, the other by The American Federation of Labor. The Progressive Mine Workers of America (AFL) was a splinter organization with a few local unions in Illinois and scarcely a paper organization in Kentucky. Concurrently with the march of troops, the president of this so-called union, one Joe Ozanic, announced at Mount Olive, that he was conferring with Harlan County operators. The announcement, which you will note was made in Illinois, not Kentucky, included the quote from Ozanic: "I cannot discuss the nature or progress of the negotiations." There was never any progress to report in that direction.
Two weeks after the troops bivouaced in Harlan County, the Knoxville News Sentinel, not noted as a pro-union newspaper, commented on Chandler's action. I quote the full editorial, first because it is truthful, and second, because it shows that the UMWA was not alone in judging Chandler as unfit for office. Under the headline: "Democracy is Born in Harlan," the News-Sentinel said: "Not since the Civil War have people of Kentucky experienced a more alarming event than the invasion of Harlan two weeks ago by National Guardsmen who seized possession of the County to rule it in a state of undeclared martial law.
Certainly there was nothing inherent in the situation itself to justify Governor Chandler's action. The Governors of at least six other states also were confronted with a mine holiday, but, although in some of these states the situation became serious, not one of them saw fit to project armed force into the troublous picture. Negotiations between miners and operators in New York had resulted in an agreement before Chandler gave the command to march. Collective bargaining, as established by law, was functioning. In Harlan, picketing during the month's holiday had been conspicuously peaceful. Law enforcement officers of the County and the regular State police were keeping vigilance. Never before during a labor dispute had the Harlan scene been so peaceful.
The Governor said that responsible citizens of Harlan County reliably informed him that if he would send in troops, 75 percent of the miners would return to work. Where did he secure this "reliable" information, the public is asking, since events have proved his figures fantastically in error. Did Governor Chandler ask the opinion of the Federal Department of Labor, specialists in that field? Did he consult the Kentucky Department of Industrial Relations, which was headed by competent Commissioner Burrows? Did he inquire of the miners themselves who, after all, were the principal parties? The governor passed them all up. Instead, he acted upon the unsupported request of County Judge Ball, a stockholder in a Harlan mine, and a petition presented by three non-union miners who had been sent to the Governor by the Whitfields of Clover Fork Coal Company. "Clover Fork Coal Company and two of the Whitfields are now under indictment in Federal Court for conspiracy to deprive miners of their civil rights. It was at their behest that the Governor ordered troops into Harlan, for, he said, the 'protection of civil liberties. The real reason why "Happy" Chandler rushed to the aid of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association have not been unsuspected. Facing political oblivion after his defeat last year, he may have remembered how Cal Coolidge broke a policeman's strike in Boston and then boomed into the Presidency. He may have considered the stinging, overwhelming beating he took at the hands of New Dealers and organized labor in the Senate race. So he hitched his wagon to a star, crashed the front page of every newspaper in the country and marched forth on a white horse to save 75 per cent of the people of Harlan County from themselves."
"The result could be thought funny if the occasion were not so fraught with danger. Goaded by bayonets and cocked rifles in the hands of inexperienced and frequently unwilling youngsters, 10 per cent of Harlan's miners went back into the earth."
"Like Hitler seizing Czechoslavakia, the Governor thrust into Harlan County hundreds of mystified guardsmen, bristling with automatic rifles and machine guns, ordered to shoot to kill. Civil rights were suspended or made dependent upon the uncertain decision of an officer. Peaceful picketing, guaranteed the working people by the supreme law of the land, was refused and pickets chased at the point of bayonets. Boys were ordered off the picket line, put in uniform and because they were National guardsmen, compelled to turn their guns against their fathers, brothers and fellow unionists and when an officer, appalled by such an atrocity, tried to be as human as possible, he was removed for lack of aggressiveness. Public roads and bridges were blocked unlawfully. Citizens not members of the union were detained in their normal movements without due process of law. While under escort of a guard, a scab shot a union picket. No effort has been spared to smash the miners' organization and to herd them like slaves back into the mines. No Kentuckian who loves his state respects the Governor who vents his political spleen on hungry women and children by using the iron heel and the mailed fist of the National guard in Harlan County. Chandler will never be able to justify his childish action because it was proven unnecessary elsewhere throughout the nation. John L. Lewis added his eloquent voice to the denunciation of Chandler. Speaking at a convention of the CIO's United Textile Workers, Lewis said that he had known Chandler a long time. Lewis said: "When he decided to run for Governor, he came to Washington to see me. He said he believed in collective bargaining. We believed Chandler because we didn't know he was talking with his tongue in his cheek.
As a result of that meeting, Lewis agreed to address a rally of coal miners at Pikeville, Kentucky, on Labor Day, 1934, to open Chandler's gubernatorial campaign. Chandler came to his hotel room after the successful rally, Lewis declared, promising "never to forget what the United Mine Workers did for him." But, said Lewis, "he left my room immediately after the conference, drove over the mountain to Harlan to keep a secret rendezvous with the Harlan operators with whom he concluded a dishonorable deal."
Lewis said that Chandler was trying to break the UMWA because coal miners had voted for Alban Barkley instead of Chandler in the 1938 campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The CIO and the miners had helped thump "Happy" out of politics temporarily, so, he added: "Happy Chandler is angry — and he has a lust for vengeance. He is using his power to appease that lust. If this madman in Kentucky does not restrain that lust for vengeance, then I think there should be some authority in this country that will restrain him. Lewis then threw down the gauntlet. "Soldiers and guns and troops will not mine coal in America. The time has gone by when men can be shot back into the mines. It will take more than a Chandler to stop the onward march of the mine workers or organized labor in this country." The battle was joined. The voice of Lewis had been heard. But the onward marching of Union men in Harlan was to be rough and hazardous for weeks to come. The day before the National Guard arrived, the union held a rally at Lenarue, six miles south of Harlan that drew a crowd of six thousand. Bill Turnblazer, Jim Golden and I were the main speakers. Turnblazer tore into Chandler for having ordered troops in to break the strike. He urged the men to "stay away" from the mines, "because troops can't mine coal with bayonets." He also told the crowd "the Union will have a big war chest rolled up to feed the miners" and that if they were evicted from their houses "the United States Government will give you tents and we will feed you.
I said: "Harlan County is peaceful and has been peaceful ever since the passing of the gun thugs . . . There has been less murder in Harlan County, and Harlan County will be better off under the banner of the United Mine Workers."
One newspaper quoted me as saying that the coal operators were "coupon clippers and royalty collectors, including Judge Ball," and also said that I referred to the National guardsmen as "tin-horn soldiers." I do not remember exactly what I said that day, but the quotes sound like me. In spite of everything we could do, however, on the morning of May 15, 1939, the National Guard came to Harlan County. The 850 inexperienced guardsmen were under the leadership of General Ellerbe Carter who rode into Harlan County displaying the pomp of a Roman Emperor. The general was well groomed with a well-waxed mustache, cherry red cheeks that gave the impression of being rouged, and the posterior of a chorus girl. He brought with him a personal press agent. Virtually every morning at nine o'clock, while the guard remained in the County, there was a press conference to publicize General Carter. Never in my life did I come in contact with a man who liked better to see his name and picture in the newspaper than the general from Louisville. He soon acquired the nickname of "grandma." When the National Guard came into Harlan, the first group to arrive was their telephone crew who went to work at 2:30 a.m. tapping the telephones at the union office and in the homes of union officials. They tapped the office phone and ran a wire to a listening station at the City Hall half a block away. They tapped my home phone in the Martin Apartments next to the Post Office. They ran two wires down the pole in my back yard and assigned a guardsman to listen in after dark. We watched him with amusement for an hour while we confused him with crazy telephone messages. Then we called the Sheriff and reported a prowler in the back yard. He departed without bothering to remove the taps from the wire. Maybe he didn't know how.
On May 15th, I wrote Governor Chandler that I was resigning my positions as a member of the State Unemployment Compensation Advisory Board and also the State Wage and Hour Board. I told him that I did not want to contaminate a good thirty-year union record by association with his administration. When questioned by reporters, "Happy" said that if I had not resigned it would have been necessary for him to fire me. According to the Louisville Courier Journal the ex post facto record made by "Happy" in Frankfort shows I was fired.
The deadline for reopening of Harlan County mines with National guard protection was at 2:00 p.m. on May 15th. The union had picket lines at thirty-seven mines. All entrances and roads to these mines were to be kept open to non-union miners by National guardsmen armed with machine guns, rifles and bayonets. Union pickets were not armed. The stage was being set for more tragedy in Harlan County. The troops were armed with the most modern weapons available but were without experience in their use. A trigger-happy soldier is dangerous. But a raw rookie soldier is even worse. He never knows who or when he is going to shoot.
The first week began a series of tragic and near-tragic incidents that turned the miners' hatred toward the guardsmen themselves. These occurred because of the inexperience and stupidity of the soldiers themselves and the maniacal determination of their superiors to protect Harlan County scabs. The first took place on May 18th at the High Splint mine near Clover Fork where the National Guard alleged that unknown union men had fired two fusillades of shots at non-union miners. I halfway believe that this was a demonstration staged by General Carter for the benefit of out-of-town newspapermen. But he did stop a truck and arrest its thirty-six occupants, all of whom were union men. Three guns were found in the bed of the truck but ownership could not be established. The men were released after being charged with violation of the Kentucky Motor Vehicles Act, namely, too many people riding in one truck.
The events at Totz, a little camp owned by the Harlan Central Coal Company, on May 19th were more serious. General Carter had promised us that 150 pickets would be permitted at Totz if they were peaceful and if they were under the discipline of a representative of the Union. Our representative, James D. Scott, was not permitted to pass a National guard road blockage, and two hundred Union sympathizers at Totz, including some women and children, were herded at gun point in the hot sun on a forced one-mile march away from the mine. Our people were peaceful limped and walked the mile as well as they could and were rewarded for their good behavior by being called "a bunch of bums" by General Carter.
A few days later the first shooting of the new war took place. A non-union miner, John Padgett, shot a union man, Elmer McLaughlin, who was not a picket but an onlooker while Padgett was arguing with some women who had rightfully called him a scab. With him all during the affair was a National guard private named Obie Littrell who not only failed to disarm Padgett when he threatened to shoot into the group of women, but actually protected him and enabled him to escape after he shot McLaughlin, an innocent bystander, in a fit of wild temper. General Carter was asked by newspaper reporters why he had not disciplined Private Littrell. He excused the soldier's action by saying he was "young and inexperienced." Littrell was twenty-six years of age and had served in the guard for two years.
It soon was apparent to all of us except a few hard-nosed Harlan operators and "Happy" Chandler that public sentiment was on the side of the strikers. The Knoxville News-Sentinel late in May carried the editorial lambasting Chandler, printed earlier in this chapter. A reporter for the same newspaper, Carleton Waldos wrote a by-lined story, "Rule by Bayonets," that ridiculed the presence of the National Guard in Harlan County. He said that many of the troops openly sympathized with "the Jones Boys," as the strikers had become widely known, and fraternized with them in public. Representative Andrew Jackson May, (D-Ky.) chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, said in Washington that it was "inconceivable" to him that "military force was necessary in the Harlan field." May's constituents were mostly coal miners and operators. On May 23rd, Kentucky's Commissioner of Industrial Relations, W. C. Burrows, issued a statement protesting against use of troops in Harlan County. He also wrote Chandler a letter of resignation, which said: "The main reason I am taking this action is because I am unalterably opposed to the presence of troops in Harlan County. I believe that I have demonstrated during the past three years of my association with the state administration, that I believe in mediation rather than force in settling of all labor disputes."
During this administration, we have been faced with more labor difficulties than during all the other administrations combined. However, at no time has it been necessary to ask for troops until you decided to send them to Harlan County last Monday. After the letter of resignation had been made public, Chandler called Burrows in for a conference. The Governor, a soft-soap expert from way back, persuaded Burrows to withdraw his resignation, thus saving a little face. Another hopeful trend toward a break in the operators' solid front was the fact that some of the mines were signing individual contracts with the Union. Although at first no member of the operators' association signed up, we were meeting with Secretary George Ward from time to time. Although these negotiations were temporarily fruitless, at least the lines of communication were open.
June 1939 was a relatively quiet month, filled with tension, but relatively empty of sensation. The newspapers got excited when the High Splint mine was shot up again. No one was hurt and a "full scale investigation" discovered nothing but some empty rifle shells nearby. On June 20th, Bill Turnblazer announced that the Creech Coal Company had signed a Union-Shop contract with the UMWA, the first member of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association to do so. George W. Creech, vice-president, signed for the Company, Turnblazer, as District 19 President, myself as Secretary-Treasurer, organizer Robert Hodge, and members of the local union scale committee, signed for the UMWA.
At the beginning of July it had become obvious to us that the situation had again become stalled on dead center. The National Guard was still chauffeuring scabs to work in government-owned vehicles. Creech had signed up, but other members of the operators' association had no intention of doing so. Early in the month, the silence was shattered by a dynamite blast that destroyed a $4,000 cutting machine at the Stanfill mine of the Mahan-Ellison Coal Company. The mine was empty at the time of the explosion and the damage was not discovered until later. The company said that the damage amounted to $20,000, and "Happy" Chandler dramatically announced that the state would give a $250 reward to anyone who turned in the perpetrators of the outrage. The company, the operators' association and the County also said they would each pay an additional $250 to the finder, or a total of $1,000. (No one was ever found.) It seemed paradoxical to me that Chandler would offer a $250 reward for the person or persons destroying a mining machine, yet offered not one red cent for the arrest of the bushwhackers who shot up Bill Clontz's house, shot Tom Ferguson in the back or murdered Bennett Musick.
At the same time the operators had tried again to use the courts to cripple the strike. Cleon Calvert, representing four non-union stooges, had asked for a temporary injunction to prevent forty-three Harlan and Bell County operators from working their mines under the "Union Shop" clause in their contract with the UMWA. Special Judge J. B. Hannah, of Ashland, Kentucky, sitting in Harlan Circuit Court, denied Calvert's request. Thomas E. Townsend, James Golden and W. R. Lay represented the UMWA in this case. This was a legal victory for us but the real struggle was again to be the pitheads in the county. On July 9th, I called a meeting of Harlan County union miners at Lenarue. Bill Turnblazer spoke and called for reforming of picket lines to "curtain production" and to "get some men out of the mines while the Great Lakes trade is going on. Turnblazer said: "You have the right to peaceful picketing and to peacefully persuade non-union men not to work." District 6 President, John Owens of Columbus, Ohio, who in 1947 became International Secretary-Treasurer of the Union, personally represented John L. Lewis at this meeting. He told the crowd of several thousand miners "the death of labor unions is the first step in crushing democracy. After the meeting a member of the National Guard stationed near Lenarue kicked one of our men who had just been released from the hospital. Although this was reported to Major Fred Staples, nothing was done. The next day I ordered reformation of the picket lines. The stage had been set for one of the last big battles in Harlan County. If I had known what was to happen to me personally in the next few days, I might have been tempted to take a vacation — but I didn't.