Biographical note

But Ward was not removed. And if he did not chase any organizers out of Harlan, he and his thugs prevented them from recruiting very many new members


Download 0.89 Mb.
Date conversion04.09.2017
Size0.89 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   16

But Ward was not removed. And if he did not chase any organizers out of Harlan, he and his thugs prevented them from recruiting very many new members.

After this, the union spirit in Harlan County was dormant but refused to die. On May 1, 1927, the UMWA called a mass meeting in Harlan Town and for the first time in several years an International officer came to Harlan. He was the union's new Secretary-Treasurer, Thomas Kennedy, an anthracite miner from Hazleton, Pa., who had succeeded William Green in 1925 when the latter became president of the American Federation of Labor.

(Mr. Kennedy became UMWA President on January 14, 1960, when the great John L. Lewis retired. He died January 19, 1963.)

The meeting was a complete success in spite of the fact that local officials did everything they could to destroy its effectiveness. The city water supply was cut off during the day at the behest of the operators. Obtaining a drink of water was more difficult than getting a "shot of corn." But Tom Kennedy, Bill Turnblazer, Peggy Dwyer and other speakers of the day were able to revive the spirit of unionism and 1,058 miners were reinstated in the UMWA and taken into full membership. Local unions were re-established in virtually all coal camps in the Harlan territory.

This new spirit did not last long. The unqualified opposition of the operators coupled with the fact that Harlan coal miners had become ac­customed to defeat proved too much for the union and by the end of 1927 efforts to organize the workers had again been abandoned. Organizing activities were at a virtual standstill in 1928, but in 1929 interest was revived by reports that acute distress prevailed in the mining communities throughout southeastern Kentucky. As a result, the editor of the UMW Journal made a first-hand investigation of conditions.

The Journal article described poverty and starvation in the non-union coalfields of southeastern Kentucky. The editor said he "discovered that wages of miners ranged from $1.50 to $2.80 a day and that they got only two to three days work a week." In addition, he reported "all of the principle coal companies are running company stores, and the men who earn these pitifully small wages must trade at these stores. Very few men draw even a cent on payday."

He said that the coal operators themselves were as economically distressed as were their employees. He concluded: "All of this is definite proof of the correctness of the position of the UMWA for years past that wage reductions will not help the coal industry."

As a result of these conditions, the UMWA tried a new approach. In May, a petition was circulated among the business and professional men m the field requesting Mr. Turnblazer to call a public mass meeting for the purpose of discussing the problems of the coal industry. The meeting was held in Pineville on May 26 and was attended, according to reports, by "a large crowd of miners, operators, business and professional men, bankers, and the general public." This group adopted a series of resolutions calling on the Federal Congress to pass legislation regulating the bituminous coal industry because of the state of economic anarchy and depression existing in America's most basic industry. Officials of the International Union, led by John L. Lewis, had been pressing for passage of such legislation for several months.

The resolutions were taken to Washington and presented to President Herbert Hoover by Mr. Turnbla/er and J. B. Helton, Sheriff of Bell County, the latter a good friend of the union. The government took no action, however, and whatever interest there had been in the sorry plight of Harlan miners once more languished.

The stock market crash of October 1929 and the desperate depression that followed merely accentuated an economic crisis that Harlan coal miners and operators had been enduring for several years. The following excerpt affords a glimpse of conditions existing at the outset of the depression from a letter to the editor of the UMW Journal by a miner living in Benham:

"The mines are operating every day with few exceptions. Yet, it is a sad sight to see the little children clad in dirty clothes and nearly barefooted and their fathers wearing overalls on Sunday" The surroundings are decidedly deplorable with the exception of a few places. Other coal companies of this district have reduced wages from time to time until today it is just meat and bread proposition, and not enough of that. The small merchants have been thrown into bankruptcy, and here of late they have begun to talk in favor of unionism as the only hope for the miner and the restoration of business. It will be remembered that a few years ago they were lined up with the coal operators."

As the depression deepened there was a further succession of wage cuts and by the fall of 1930 the UMW A had once more entered the field in force. On Labor Day a mass meeting was held at Wallins Creek. Here again, the ostensible purpose of the meeting was the consideration of "ways and means of stabilizing the coal industry."

The meeting was addressed by Kentucky's Gov. Flem D. Sampson, Mr. Turnblazer and District 5 President, P. T. (Pat) Pagan. It was decided that a letter should be written to President Hoover asking him to call a con­ference of industry, government and labor union officials to try to arrive at a solution to the increasingly dangerous problem of unemployment.

Although this appeal was likewise ignored in Washington, the miners were ripe for organization and the UMWA made gradual progress in the field during the remainder of 1930. A final fillip was furnished to the union movement by the announcement of a ten percent wage reduction in February 1931. The miners' bitterness at this move enabled the union to start a vigorous organizing campaign. It began with distribution of a circular describing the conditions that prevailed throughout the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky throughout the region. Copies of the circular were sent to President Hoover, Secretary of Labor William Doak, and several members of Congress. The circular was printed in the Con­gressional Record at the request of Congressman J. Will Taylor of Tennessee. On the last page of the circular was the following appeal addressed to the miners:

"WANTED - 20,000 coal miners of District 19 to affiliate with the United Mine Workers of America; to assist in stopping wage reductions, long hours of labor, miserable working and living conditions.

"We have a plan whereby you may now join the organization by mail or otherwise, and prevent any discrimination against you. For further information in connection therewith, we advise you to get in touch with Lawrence Dwyer, P. O. Box 462, Pineville, Kentucky, and William Turn-blazer, P. O. Box 96, Jellico, Tennessee.

"Join the union of your craft.

"Do not delay! Organize immediately!

"This is your opportunity. It is your only salvation, and in the words of the immortal Lincoln, 'We cannot live half free and half slave.'

"Let us hear from you."

A mass meeting in Pineville early in March followed this. According to the UMW Journal, approximately 2,000 miners attended the meeting and all who had a dollar joined the union. Alarmed at the revival of the union movement the operators began discharging union members, plus some of the miners who had simply attended the Pineville mass meeting. As a result of this action, Mr. Turnblazer addressed a tele­gram to President Hoover on April 1, 1931, asking for aid.

The telegram pointed out that Harlan coal operators were discharging employees merely because they had attended a public meeting. Not only were the employees fired but were evicted from their homes. They had no place to live and nothing to eat. Mr. Turnblazer stated: "They have appealed to that great American mother, that wonderful angel of mercy, the American Red Cross, and they have asked for bread and were given a stone."

He also informed the President that Governor Sampson, of Kentucky, had been appealed to "to no avail." The telegram also said: "These miners are hungry. They are anxious for work. The coal companies refuse them. The American Red Cross refuses them relief or assistance." The Turhblazer telegram concluded by quoting Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, who had stated publicly. "In such circum­stances, I would steal before I would starve."

President Hoover replied that "Judge Payne, Chairman of the Ameri­can Red Cross, informs me that he is sending one of their agents into the locality you mention to investigate the situation." M. R. Reddy, the Red Cross representative, however, reported that the problem of relief was entirely in the hands of the local chapters and that national headquarters could not intervene. The local chapter of the Red Cross did lend its aid to the starving miners. In effect, it merely subsidized their starvation diet with handouts of flour. This action was almost meaningless and, in fact, merely made the process of starvation a little slower.

During the next few months, incipient rebellion smoldered menacingly in Harlan County. Unemployed miners began to march. One day, ac­cording to Mr. Turnbla/er, "2,800 men marched into Harlan and demanded food. Merchants and others collected $350 and gave it to them." Late in April a drift mine at Shields was bombed and a tipple of the Harlan Collieries Company was burned. Later, sixteen vacant homes owned by the Three Point Coal Company were burned. Further violence was inevitable.

The top finally exploded on May 5 when the famed "Battle of Evarts" took place. Many people who have heard of this incident believe that scores of men died in the so-called battle. Actually, only four men were killed. Tension had begun to build up a few days earlier when the Black Mountain Coal Company discharged a large number of men and began evicting their families from company-owned houses. The dismissed miners met at Evarts, an independent (non-company) town about nine miles from Harlan. Word reached the miners that Jim Daniels, a deputy sheriff who was known throughout Harlan County as "the Kaiser" was on his way to Evarts with three carloads of deputies to clean out the town. Just outside of Evarts, the deputies and miners met. There was a fusaladge of rifle shots and when the smoke had cleared away three deputies and one miner were dead.

Next day, according to an Associated Press dispatch, Governor Sampson ordered several companies of State Troops to Harlan County. This was after an all-day conference between the governor's representatives and labor leaders. After the conference, the following statement was signed and issued to the press:

"In the best interests of citizens of Harlan and Bell counties, we hereby request that Governor Sampson send sufficient soldiers to these counties to preserve order.

"We also desire and insist that no transportation of outside or foreign labor be sent into Harlan and Bell Counties while the troops are in the field and for the duration of martial law.

"The miners have the right of free assemblage and the right to join and solicit members for their organization and we agree that all meetings should be held in the daytime. We agree that all mine guards be disarmed and their commissions revoked. We, the undersigned, agree to cooperate to the fullest extent to bring about a settlement of these conditions at the earliest possible time."

The Battle of Evarts became a national sensation. It marked the beginning of the end of UMWA inertia in Harlan County. It marked the start of a new organizing drive that continued fitfully until 1941 when the operators finally signed a contract with the union based on the national wage agreement. It also projected the Communist Party into Harlan County which meant that the UMWA had it to fight as well as the coal operators and state and county officials bought and paid for by the mine owners. In the next few chapters, I will describe the battle of Evarts and the conflicting stories told about it, and a few of the colorful characters that were in­volved. I will also briefly recount the activities of the Communists in Harlan County. The latter accomplished little but made a lot of noise.


The Battle of Evarts

The Battle of Evarts took place on May 5, 1931. It was in reality more of a skirmish than a battle. It lasted only fifteen minutes. No more than fifty men were involved. Three company gun thugs (or deputy sheriffs, whichever you prefer) and one picketing miner was killed. Several others were wounded but recovered. But in spite of the small casualty list, Evarts was soon a household name in the United States. The murder and conspiracy trials that followed were reported on the front pages of all national newspapers. The Communists tried to seize control of the union spirit in Harlan and the famous novelist, Theodore Dreiser, then a Com­munist tool, wrote nationally syndicated newspaper stories about Harlan County coal miners.

The story of the battle has since become shrouded in myth. There are many who believe that hundreds of men died. The account I have gathered together should set the record straight. It is based on official court records and conversations with scores of those involved. One version of the battle is based on testimony given by witnesses for the Commonwealth who were attempting to convict the miners of murder or conspiracy. The testimony of these witnesses for the operators acquits the miners. The second version of the Battle of Evarts is based on what the defense - the miners them­selves - had to say. It also acquits the miners. The record is clear.


Before going into the details of testimony presented by anti-union witnesses, it might be well to place the battlefield in geographical perspec­tive. It should be remembered that the men were picketing the Black Mountain Mine but were unable to enter the town of Black Mountain be­cause it was company owned. A company mining camp, Verda, is located about four to five miles from Black Mountain. The town of Evarts, a non-company community, is located half way between the two company camps.

Events leading up to the gun battle began early on the morning of May 5, 1931, when a Black Mountain Coal Corporation truck drove past a group of UMWA pickets in Evarts. A strikebreaker named John Hickey who was accompanied by his son, Roscoe, and another scab named Roy Hughes drove the truck. As the truck passed by, one of the miners, Oscar Dykes, according to testimony at the conspiracy trial, shouted: "There they go. We'll lay for them when they come back."

Shortly afterward a number of striking miners gathered at the Louis­ville and Nashville Railroad depot in Evarts and another group went to the Verda end of Evarts where they stationed themselves. The L & N agent, O. M. Howard, testified he telephoned E. B. Childers, superintendent of the Black Mountain Mine, and Harlan County Sheriff John Henry Blair notifying them that the strikers had gathered to stop the truck. Sheriff Blair admitted on the witness stand that he had talked by phone to Howard, Childers, and Jim Daniels, chief of the Black Mountain group of thugs. The sheriff further stated that he had ordered Daniels to "bring a bunch of mine guards from Black Mountain to Evarts" and instructed him to wait at the L & N depot to meet fifteen deputy sheriffs Blair was sending from Harlan. The mine guards and deputies would then, according to Blair, have escorted the truck past the pickets at Evarts. Five of the mine guards who survived the battle presented consistent testimony at the various trials of union men for murder or conspiracy. According to their stories, Daniels was in charge of a group of ten mine guards who traveled in three cars. They were armed with rifles, which were kept out of sight. All of them said that as they passed through Evarts no one said anything to them nor did anything to them. They passed various miners at the railroad station and more along the road. None of these molested the guards.

Still driving slowly, (some swore their greatest speed all the way from Black Mountain was fifteen miles per hour, others eight to ten), they neared the battle scene, an open spot on the edge of Evarts with a clear road to Verda and Harlan. Here they said they saw two Negroes and a white man standing beside a small water birch tree. When the last car had passed one of the Negroes raised his hand and a shot was fired. Daniels ordered the cars to stop. He got out on the right-hand side, passed around the front of the car to the left side, and with his Browning rapid-fire rifle in a position to shoot, leaned upon a five-foot bank and looked over. Ac­cording to the thugs, a shotgun immediately roared and Daniels, shot in the head, dropped to the ground dead.

Shooting became general. A battle raged for fifteen minutes. Some witnesses testified that more than a thousand shots were fired. Two more mine guards, Otto Lee and Howard Jones, were killed; two other guards, E. M. Cox and Sherman Perciful, were badly wounded.

That is the condensed testimony of the Commonwealth witnesses based °n court records. It set forth all alleged facts in their stories of that morning’s tragedy.

The defense conceded the truck had passed through Evarts to Verda and that some men had gathered to picket and persuade Hughes not to scab at Black Mountain. The defense proved, through Mrs. G. I. Michael, a Commonwealth witness, that Daniels and his mine fellow-guards, in­stead of driving to the scene at fifteen miles an hour or less, had sped there at forty miles or more per hour. She testified she left Black Mountain ahead of the deputies and although she drove twenty-five to thirty-five miles per hour, two cars of deputies passed her before she had traveled the mile and a half between Black Mountain and Evarts and the third passed her in Evarts. Instead of moving leisurely, Daniels and his crew sped eagerly to the fray.

Defense witnesses testified Daniels and his men began shooting at the pickets before stopping their cars that the pickets scattered and hid behind rocks and in small depressions for protection from the gunmen's withering fire. To gain a more advantageous position for achievement of their deadly purpose, Daniels and his men got out of the cars and with their rifles, blazing advanced toward the trapped pickets. Daniels was intent on killing some pickets who had jumped over the side of the road behind a low cut bank to escape the guards' bullets. Stalking his prey, he leaned over the bank, emptied his Browning gun many times, crouched back to reload, and fired again and again. Daniels tried too long and too often. Reinforce­ments arrived to protect the ambushed pickets. There was testimony that as soon as the fight started half of the people of Evarts entered the battle on the side of the pickets from across the creek. The next time Daniels aimed over the bank he was killed.

Although all the mine guards swore Daniels was killed right after he reached the cut bank, the testimony of H. B. Turner, a merchant who appeared for the Commonwealth, gave full support to the evidence of the defense witnesses. Turner was coming in a taxi from Harlan to Evarts and was three hundred yards away when the shooting begun. He got out of the car and walked to within 250 feet of the fight, where he had a clear view of the battle. His testimony proves Daniels was not killed until at least five minutes after the shooting started.

"He was lying on the lower side of the bank," Turner swore. "He had gone up the bank and it looked like he was trying to shoot - every once in a while he would raise his head up and somebody would shoot from somewhere else and he would dodge back down, and I watched him there until it looked like somebody shot his head off and he fell right there."

On cross-examination, Turner testified he saw Daniels rise up and look over the bank "something like four or five times." The defense demonstrated throughout that Daniels and his men were the aggressors, that instead of the mine guards being ambushed it was the mine guards who ambushed the pickets.

. Three mine guards and one union coal miner were killed. Forty-three mineworkers were indicted for the killings of the gunmen. William Turnblazer, who was not in Harlan County but 100 miles away in Jellico, was indicted. The first eight men were charged with murder and tried in the Harlan courts. The operators were unable to get convictions before a mountain jury.

Three men, William Hightower, Ezra Phillips and William Hudson, were convicted of conspiracy by a Bluegrass jury and were pardoned by Governor Lafoon in December 1935. Four others, Jim Reynolds, W. B. Jones, Chester Poore and Al Benson were also convicted but were not freed until 1941.

W. B. Jones' trial for conspiracy to commit murder ended on Decem­ber 1, 1931. Other conspiracy trials concluded as follows: Chester Poore on July 28, 1932, Jim Reynolds on September 22, 1932, and Al Benson on January 8, 1933. The conspiracy change was a smoke screen. Since it had been made so clear that it was the pickets, not the deputies, who were bushwhacked, since manifestly the killing of the three mine guards was done in self defense, the prosecution, a willing tool of the coal interests, found it necessary to resort to the conspiracy charge to secure convictions.

The prosecution proceeded against the accused on four theories:

1. That there was a conspiracy to kill Daniels, Childers and Sheriff Blair in order to replace them with officials who would be more friendly to the miners.

2. That there was a conspiracy to kill Daniels because he was to testify in May in Harlan at the examining trial of Bill Burnett, a union miner charged with (and later acquitted of) the killing of Jesse Pace.

3. That there was a conspiracy to kill deputies who, according to a letter alleged to have been read by defendant W. B. Jones at a union meeting May 4, were coming from Harlan with warrants for the arrest of five hundred miners and who planned, after the arrests, to ravish the miners' wives and daughters.

4. That there was a conspiracy to prevent a scab, named RoyHughes, from moving his furniture next day from Verda to Black Mountain.

Attempting to prove these allegations, Fred Lester, Commonwealth witness in the Jones trial, testified: "Then he, (Jones) went ahead and said to them. 'All that has not got high-power rifles,' he said, 'take shot­guns, and them that has not got shotguns, take pistols, and anybody that has not got a pistol, get a red handkerchief, and anybody that hain't got any gun at all, get some rocks,' and said, 'if there is any of you not able to throw rocks, get a red handkerchief, you can wave it/ "

Hugh Lester's testimony was a shameless echo of his brother Fred's story. Hugh said " and he (Jones) said, 'Every man get him a gun, - and them that has not got a gun can get a pistol and if they hain't got a pistol, get a load of cracked rocks; and he says, them that has not got rocks, get a red flag or a red handkerchief and wave it' . . ." All of this was pur­ported to have been said by Jones in a meeting of the Local Union the night before the battle.

Other Commonwealth perjurers also changed the "red handkerchief" into "red flag." But the enthusiastic prosecutors failed to school their witnesses sufficiently. There was no testimony showing that on May 5 anyone carried red handkerchiefs or red flags, or threw rocks.

Many of the state's witnesses who testified about the May 4 meeting were persons who themselves had been charged with the murders and were testifying to save their own lives. Examples: Fred, John and Hugh Lester had been indicted on a charge of poisoning a nephew to obtain $20,000 insurance. They also were indicted as participants in the May 5 battle. Both the May 5 murder charges and the poison murder charges were dis­missed after they had testified for the Commonwealth, but Fred, chief beneficiary, was unable to collect the insurance.

What does the evidence actually show on the four conspiracy theories?

1. That union miners had petitions bearing thirty thousand signa­tures asking Governor Lafoon to remove Sheriff Blair and other county officials because of terrorist acts. Much testimony proved the union members had gone out of their way to secure removal of those officials peacefully and legally.

2. There was no conspiracy to kill Daniels to keep him from testifying against Burnett. Frank White and George Lee, deputies who took part in the fight when Burnett killed Jesse Pace, and who were far more important witnesses than Daniels, were permitted to pass through Evarts enroute from Black Mountain to Harlan an hour or more before the battle, and they were not molested. Dolly Hudson Daniels, widow of Jim Daniels, later told Governor Chandler that on the morning of May 5 Superintendent Childers came to her house and ordered her husband to the scene of the picketing and "wouldn't let him wait long enough to get breakfast or shave." She urged the governor to pardon the prisoners. Her statement further proves that Daniels was not preparing to go to Harlan that morning as the Commonwealth alleged. His May 5 journey to/death had one purpose - to shoot it out with the pickets at Evarts. The Commonwealth produced no evidence to show that any preparations were made by the union miners to defend Burnett; no lawyer had been retained; no witnesses subpoenaed. After the Jones trial this part of the "conspiracy" was barely mentioned.

3. The majority of the Commonwealth's witnesses testified that from twelve to fourteen pickets were at the battle scene, obviously an insufficient number to stop an invading army of deputies coming from Harlan to arrest five hundred miners and then ravish their wives.

4. No denial was made of the effort to picket the truck containing the furniture of the scab, Roy Hughes. Picketing is part and parcel of every strike. The testimony of both Hughes and the driver Hickey that they did not know until the morning of May 5 that they were going to bring the truck through Evarts, making it impressible for a conspiracy to have been hatched at the May 4 meeting to stop the truck with guns.

What actually happened to bring on the battle? Let us sum up the evidence again to make the picture clearer.

The Commonwealth's case: The L & N depot agent telephoned Childers and Sheriff Blair, advising them of the picket line. Blair and Daniels talked several times over the telephone. Blair ordered Daniels to bring his men and meet the squad of deputies coming from Harlan "at die L & N depot," then escort the truck to Black Mountain. Daniels and his men drove peacefully down the road and were suddenly fired upon from ambush.

The defense proved by Commonwealth witnesses: That Daniels and his men drove swiftly, at least forty miles per hour with their rifles hidden. Daniels rode in the front car and kept his own car in the middle to avoid recognition. Daniels didn't stop at the L & N depot where he had been supposedly ordered to wait for the Harlan deputies, but drove no more than 1,600 feet to the battle site; that pickets were looking toward Harlan for the truck while Daniels and his crew sped up behind them; that Daniels was not killed until five minutes after the battle started and only after he had made several attempts to shoot a man who was crouched down behind the cut bank; that Daniels was twenty feet away from the car when he was killed.

Without quoting defense witnesses for corroboration, this conclusion is the most probable: Blair and Daniels plotted over the telephone to wipe out the pickets by a surprise attack. While the pickets were looking toward Harlan for the truck to come from Verda, the Black Mountain mine guards were to sweep down and shoot them in the back. The other fifteen deputies coming from Harlan would attack from the opposite direction. Thus the pickets would be caught between two fires. The plan miscarried because Daniels attacked too soon while the fifteen Harlan deputies were still at Verda. (Note: The battle occurred at a place where the road makes a right angle turn).

If Jones had been tried purely for murder, any jury - either from the Blue Grass or the mountains - would have acquitted him. He was nowhere near the scene of the shootings. But the Commonwealth filed "conspiracy" charges and used maudlin stories of "red flags" and "black oaths," plus other gibberish as evidence to bolster up this fantastic charge. Much of the Commonwealth's case depended on the jury putting credence in the belief that the Battle of Evarts had been precipitated by a group of blood-thirsty miners who wanted only to wipe out the deputies.

Five of the surviving mine guards, according to their own testimony, was permitted to get into one of the cars and leave the battle scene. A sixth, Sherman Perciful, testified that although badly wounded he walked away. The seventh, E. M. Cox, testified that one of the miners "hollered at me to throw down my gun and run and I would not be hurt."

When the taking of testimony in the Jones trial ended, most observers expected a prompt acquittal. But they had not anticipated the next move of the prosecution. Commonwealth's attorney, W. C. Hamilton of Mount Sterling, was selected to play the final trump card in his summation to the jury. His notorious "bonfires of rejoicing in Moscow if you acquit this man" speech is one of the most brutal violations of court procedure in history. The Knoxville News-Sentinel, a Scripps-Howard daily newspaper, which has never been noted for its friendliness to organized labor, followed the Jones trial carefully. On December 11, 1931, it said in a lead editorial:

"William B. Jones, secretary of the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky, has been convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment . . . The climax of this trial came as attorneys argued it before the jury. It was not featured by a review of the facts of the battle. Instead, denunciations of unionism and of "Reds" rang through the courtroom.

"Read these excerpts from the ... arguments:

"With an admonition by the Commonwealth's attorney, W. C. Hamil­ton, not to let the American flag surrender to the Red flag, the fate of W. B. Jones, miner and union organizer, was placed in the hands of the jury ...

"Hamilton devoted more than a third of his four-and-a-half hour speech to a denunciation of the I.W.W. and Communism. There was no proof in the trial that Jones belonged to either organization . . .

"Hamilton pointed out that the United Mine Workers' oath fails to say 'in the name of Almighty God' but says instead 'in the name of each other

"Emphasizing the importance of the verdict, the Commonwealth at­torney said 'in Russia they will read the fate of this man' and 'if you turn him loose there will be celebrations in thousands of places, and in Moscow the Red Flag will be raised higher.'

"The Commonwealth attorney condemned Jones for using an Ameri­can flag in the parade of miners: 'He carried an American flag in his hand but the Red flag was in his heart. Before Saturday night you will know what I am saying will materialize. In Pineville or Harlan there will be a celebration of Reds, and property will have no more value than human life is regarded there now

"The organization to which Jones belonged is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor ... but whether or not Jones had radical inclinations is beside the point. This fact is important:

"There is no fair-minded man who has followed the Jones trial who can help from wondering in his own mind whether the Harlan County labor leader was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder or for being a labor leader."

Capt. Ben Golden, former prosecuting attorney of Bell County, father of James Golden who ably represented the miners of southeastern Kentucky for many years, and J. M. Robeson, former congressman from Kentucky for many years, assisted by W. Bridges White of Mt Sterling, ably defended the miners. When the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict against W. B. Jones, it said in the ruling: "It is earnestly insisted that the verdict of the jury should be set aside under the evidence but the well-settled rule is that the credibility of the witnesses is for the jury." (Kentucky Reports, Volume 249, Page 507.)

In November 1935, the twelve Blue Grass jurors petitioned Governor Chandler to set Jones free but he refused. On December 24, 1936, a delegation of thirty-five persons called on Governor Chandler, including William Turnblazer, myself, and Dolly Daniels, widow of the chief mine guard, Jim Daniels, who was killed in the Evarts battle. She told the governor she believed that all the prisoners were innocent.

A true picture of what took place at Evarts on that fateful morning was later given to me personally by Martin Kurd who was a picket during the battle and later went to work for me as an organizer when I came to Harlan County. Kurd recalled that the Battle of Evarts took place just across the Clover Fork River, about 100 yards from the main street of the town. He was close to Ezra (Big Segar) Phillips when he shot Jim Daniels in serf-defense. He recalled that a few minutes after the shooting started by the Black Mountain mine guards and the twelve or fifteen pickets that the brick building just across the river became a fortress. Half the town was soon involved. Guns blazed from the roofs and windows. It is little wonder that people were aroused. They had been angered by the story that five hundred thugs were going to swoop down on the town, kill union miners and rape their wives. This had added fuel to anger caused by an incident a few days before the battle when deputies had thrown a white waitress in jail with a drunken Negro miner and left her all night in the same cell with him. I would tend to doubt this story as hearsay except for the fact that the miner himself verified the story to me.

Sherman Perciful, one of the Black Mountain guards who was the recipient of sixteen bullets during the Battle of Evarts, made these facts known to Governor Chandler in 1935 along with a statement. After testifying that he was unable to identify anyone as having taken part in the battle, Perciful told the governor that George Dawn, a principal Com­monwealth witness, had said: "Damn it, say you saw them whether you did or not." Perciful urged that the prisoners be freed, but in spite of his pleas and the pleas of Jim Daniels' widow and members of the juries who convicted Jones and Perciful, the governor refused to release the prisoners.

One of the rewards of a lifetime of service to a labor union lies in friendships I have made with various colorful and dedicated men down through the years. Three of the principals on the union side at the Battle of

Evarts later worked with me and I came to know them well. I have already mentioned Martin Hurd who worked with me from 1937 to 1941 helping to organize the miners in Harlan County. At the time of the Evarts' trials, Hurd was threatened and intimidated by the state but he stood his ground and testified to the truth. I first met Martin Hurd in May 1937 when he came to me and asked for a job. I told him I had a full crew. He said, "O.K., I will help organize for nothing." He worked for a week and con­vinced me he had a great deal of ability so I put him on the payroll. Hurd was not only a good organizer but also a colorful, carefree character. He was 6 ft., 2 in. tall, light skinned Negro with a build like an Adonis and an eye for the ladies. He dressed well and owned several tailor-made suits. His wife worked for Dr. P. O. Lewis. She knew he was fickle and after several years became fed up with his activities as a philanderer. During a heated argument she took a razor and slashed his beloved suits to ribbons. She accused him of having made love to every quadroon, octoroon and sepia in Kentucky. She then got on the train and left town. Martin was a lost ball in high weeds. No one to cook for him; no one to press his clothes, and no one to love him when he was broke. He then got a bright idea. He sent his wife a telegram that he was dead and asked her what to do with the body, signing the name of a local undertaker. Mrs. Hurd hurried back to Harlan to claim Martin's remains and there stood Martin smiling at her when she got off the train. She fainted. They were a normal couple. They kissed, made up, and lived happily ever after (I think).

When he was working with me he got into a different kind of trouble, which typified the manner in which Harlan County authorities persecuted representatives of the union. He was charged with carrying his pistol con­cealed. This was a ruse used by local officials to harass union men. Per­haps to understand the nature of the judge, a brief explanation of Ken­tucky's unique weapons law is in order. The state has always emphasized in its custom and legislation the fact that a man has a right to bear arms openly. You could (and still can) carry a dozen pistols if you left the end of the barrel in sight. Usually it hung below your coattail. If the coattail hung lower than the end of the barrel, you were in violation of the law for carrying concealed weapons. Virtually every man in Kentucky straps his guns on in the morning when he dresses and feels naked if he goes to the breakfast table unarmed. It was common practice for two or more deputy sheriffs to swear out a warrant or an affidavit that they saw John Doe of the UMWA in public carrying a concealed weapon. Usually they said they saw the gun in the union man's hip pocket when his coattail blew back. Such cases were tried in the County Court. If a man demanded a jury trial under the illusion that this would render him a fair shake, a deputy would go out in the Harlan courthouse yard and summon the first six men he saw. Usually they were bums who sat around and waited for jury duty. They were paid $2.00 each per case and the $12.00 was added onto the cost of those convicted. If a man was found not guilty, no costs were paid and the jury worked for nothing, which, I do not think I need to point out, led to 100 percent convictions. So the "wino" jury convicted and received the $2.00 which just about covered the cost of a bottle or two of wine. This was Harlan County juries.

In addition to being charged with carrying the concealed gun, Hurd was also formally charged with hiring an assassin to kill all the Harlan County officials. This charge was ridiculous but it was a regular method of harassment used against every union organizer in Harlan County. The Harlan Enterprise told the story as follows:

"Harlan, March 26, 1938. The story of a plot to murder a group of county officials, former officials and peace officers of Harlan County was told by a witness in the Harlan Circuit Court today in a sudden move to place Martin Hurd under a peace bond. Hurd, a 36-year-old United Mine Workers organizer, was charged by David Crockett, Negro coal miner of Gary, West Virginia, who Sheriff Herbert Cawood said appeared voluntarily and swore that Martin Hurd offereil him a new car and $500 for each death, $150 a month and expenses, to kill Daniel Boone Smith, Theodore Middleton, Lee Fleenor, Captain Russell of the Lynch police force, Bill Hollins, and two men by the name of Young and Little. The peace bond warrant against Hurd was signed by Charles Elliott, deputy sheriff for Sheriff Herbert Cawood."

Hurd said he went to Gary to visit his uncle and Crockett asked for a lift to Lynch. The girl who drove Kurd's car from Gary to Harlan said Crockett and Hurd slept all the way and discussed nothing. The old perjury mill was still grinding. The case was finally thrown out of court.

Martin Hurd was one of three men who were involved in the Battle of Evarts who later worked with me in Harlan County and whom I came to know and respect. The second man was actually in charge of organizing in Harlan County for several years before I moved in from Tennessee. He was Lawrence "Peggy" Dwyer who had been an international representative of the UMWA since 1911. His nickname came from the fact that he had one leg cut off at the knee when he was working in the coalmines. He was an Irishman and the father of eleven children. Peggy was an aggressive organizer who would fight anything that walked or crawled if he felt the cause was just. All of his life he had been a good union man

And during his early years in West Virginia he suffered for it. Well known because of his union tendencies, Peggy once moved into a company house at a West Virginia mine, which promptly instituted action to evict him. It usually took three weeks to get service for a legal eviction. As soon as one notice was served on him, Peggy would move into another empty company house and wait out the three weeks for another eviction notice. Finally, Peggy himself got tired of moving every three weeks so he went to the mine, carrying his pistol, and told the superintendent he was annoyed at moving all the time, that he had a family to keep and was willing to work. He added briefly that if the superintendent did not give him a job he would kill him. The superintendent believed Peggy meant what he said so gave him a job and the two got along for a number of years without any more trouble.

This did not stop Peggy's organizing activities. The superintendent had to put up with them during these years, whether he liked it or not, because one of the things you could not stop him from doing was talking about the United Mine Workers of America.

Peggy was a great storyteller. One of his favorites concerned a time when he was fiscal agent for strike relief during the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strike in West Virginia in 1912 and 1913. He went to the union's international headquarters in Indiana and got $3,000 relief money in cash, which he carried back to West Virginia in his hollow wooden leg. Another story involving his wooden leg concerned an automobile accident. Peggy always drove a Model A Ford when I knew him and had trouble con­trolling it because of the fact he only had one leg. One time, I remember with a great deal of delight, he lost control of the car and it ran over a bank. The car was demolished but Peggy escaped unhurt except for the fact that his wooden leg was broken in two in the middle. When he came crawling up the bank with what appeared to be one leg broken off below the knee, a woman, part of a large crowd of tourists who had gathered to see the blood, fainted because she thought he had really lost his leg.

Dwyer was not only an Irishman, he was a lucky Irishman. During his years in Harlan several attempts were made to kill him but he never was hurt. His car was fired into on several occasions from ambush and his living quarters in Pineville were blown up on two different occasions.

Another of Peggy's favorite stories involves one of the times his house was dynamited. On this occasion the dynamite was put close enough to his bed so that instead of hurting the intended victim when it blew the house up, it merely blew Peggy, bed, mattress and all against the ceiling and he came down without a scratch. However, a bottle of ink had been dislodged from the dresser by the explosion and the cork came out, throwing ink all over Peggy's face. In the darkness after he had come back to earth, Peggy felt this ink on his face and thought it was blood. When he was able to get a look at himself in the light, he found that it was ink and with his usual display of humor in telling the story, he said, "I have heard of people with red blood, yellow blood, but that was the first time I ever thought I was a blue blood."

In addition to his other attributes, he was a man of great kindness. He would give you the shirt off his back, or ninety cents of his last dollar if you needed it. He was a great American. He retired at the age of seventy-four to his farm in Shoals, Indiana, and died a year later. I always suspected he was bored to death by inactivity.

The third man involved in the Battle of Evarts, whom I later came to know well and still respect as a friend, was Bill Gibbs. After the battle, he was indicted and held in jail for sixty-seven days because he couldn't raise $30,000 bond. He was finally released by a Circuit Judge, D. C. (Baby) Jones without a trial. Jones had good reason to release Bill Gibbs. He knew that he was held in jail without reason and that Gibbs was not a man who forgave easily. Baby Jones probably learned this from his bodyguard, a tough character named Two-gun Marion Alien who had worked with Gibbs in Harlan County coalmines. I am sure the reason that Judge Jones felt he needed a bodyguard was fear that some decent citizen of Harlan County would kill him. Gibbs had a reputation as a gunman but was also well known for the fact that he had never picked a fight in his life. In his early days he had killed a man by the name of Anderson after Anderson had killed Bill Gibbs' brother. Undoubtedly Two-gun Alien convinced Baby Jones that it was jeopardizing both of their lives to keep Bill Gibbs in jail unless they could prove he was guilty of some crime. Gibbs was released after the judge attempted to get him to agree that he would not retaliate for the false imprisonment.

Bill Gibbs then went quietly back to work as a coal miner at the Black Mountain Mine. During the 1930s he could usually be found there on a picket line or at a union meeting. In 1941 Gibbs was successfully framed by the Harlan County Coal Operators and went to the penitentiary for killing a mine foreman of the Berger Coal Company. Gibbs spent several years in the penitentiary on a one-to-ten-year sentence, after which he was paroled. Soon after he had been freed, a man named Bernard Long confessed on his death bed that he, Long, had killed the mine foreman and that Bill Gibbs was innocent of that crime. Gibbs resided at Grays, Kentucky, on a hillside farm until his death in 1963. The state has done nothing to rectify this injustice. I believe that the legislature should, in spite of the many years that have passed, pass legislation enabling the state to pay Gibbs' widow for the time he was falsely imprisoned. This will probably never be done and is merely another installment of sacrifice that union miners pay for freedom.

This is the story of the famous Battle of Evarts. It was a symbol of the UMWA's fight for freedom but at the time was merely another abortive attempt to unionize Harlan County

The Brief, Unhappy Life of the Communist Party in Harlan County

The Evarts battle marked the beginning of an epidemic of local strikes. The first was at the operations of the Harlan Gas Coal Company where two hundred miners — virtually the entire working force — laid down their tools. A few days later, after the arrival of the troops ordered into Harlan by Governor Sampson, three more mines were closed by strikes and Secretary George Ward of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association estimated that four-hundred and fifty miners were on strike. This rash of work stoppage was partly due to the operators' failure to carry out the provisions of the agreement which called for disarming of mine guards. The spread of strikes in Harlan County is borne out by data based on official records of the U. S. Bureau of Mines. The figures show that at one time or another during the year, 1,574 miners were involved in strikes and that a total of 37,034 man days were lost because of strikes. This is in striking contrast with the record from 1923 to 1930 when in four of the eight years no strikes were reported by the operators and in the other four years less than three operators reported strikes.

UMWA officials were convinced that strikes in Harlan County at that time would be futile. The union refused to sanction them or to render any substantial assistance to the miners. Apparently the UMWA was greatly concerned over anti-union publicity after the Battle of Evarts. In any event, after the collapse of a strike at the mine of the Creech Coal Company on June 17, the UMWA withdrew completely from the field.

This left Harlan County open to organizing efforts by dual union, efforts that were destined to fail but which strengthened the hands of the Harlan County operators because it enabled them to accuse anyone working to better the lot of the miners of being a Communist. These accusations had some element of truth in them simply because the dual union was Communist-dominated. Known as the National Miners Union, it was formed in Pittsburgh about 1925 when it was a part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The National Miners Union believed in direct political revolution as the only means to better the lot of coal miners and other workers, and attacked the UMWA for its more conservative line of action. They succeeded for a time in persuading some misguided Harlan County miners to join their union. These men were made desperate by starvation and persecution and, grasping at straws, signed up with the so-called "Save the Union Movement" when the UMWA withdrew from the field. The union's leaders believed that for a time it would not be practical to fight the Harlan County coal operators and the Communist Party on the same battlefield at the same time.

In spite of the complications caused by entry of Communism into Harlan County, there was little violence. Colonel Carrel, who was in charge of the Kentucky troops in Harlan County, reported that the only incident of violence took place on June 11 when a coal miner named John Casteen was killed by a gun thug, Bill Randolph, at Cawood. Randolph was quite a character. He was a big, handsome six-foot motorman at Three Point who succumbed to the lure of money and joined the thug gang. He was known to have killed five men and to be without fear. He once went into Harlan when Theodore Middleton was chief of police and kicked his buttocks in an attempt to force the police chief to draw a pistol on him, but for once Theodore Middleton ate crow. Randolph was killed by Clarence Middleton — shot behind the ear when he was not looking. In any event, his murder of Casteen was the only violence in the early summer of 1931 and by the middle of July most of the mines had resumed opera­tion. As a consequence, the National Guard troops were withdrawn from Harlan on July 23, 1931.

The withdrawal of troops from Harlan County was the signal for the resumption of warfare. By this time the operators had apparently decided to drive all forms of unionism out of the country. Charles Rumford Walker's summary of developments that took place after the troops had left, which is largely substantiated by testimony before a Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Manufacturers is given below:

"The union (NMU) formed women's auxiliaries to aid in organizing relief; soup kitchens were set up, and new NMU locals formed. The UMWA warned the miners of the danger of the Communist-controlled NMU. The operators opened their attack shortly after the Pittsburgh con­vention of the NMU. On July 20, there was a raid on the home of Bill Duncan, Pittsburgh delegate. On July 23, Jesse Wakefield's car was dynamited during the night. On July 25, twenty-eight additional thugs were imported, increasing the force to sixty-five. The operators were thoroughly aroused and ready to fight with every weapon at hand. A report went about that orders had been given to the new thug army to "shoot, kill and slay four Red leaders" in Harlan County, and that they were to do this within two weeks or it would be too late to stamp out the NMU. "On July 26, 1931, the union held a picnic attended by 2,000 miners, their wives and children, at which open speeches were made. Eleven heavily armed deputies came to the picnic but left. The miners had armed themselves.

"It is interesting to note that on July 30 Judge Willie Bob Howard in a labor case found occasion in court to condemn roundly the NMU and to offer words of praise and defense for the United Mine Workers of America. Only a few months before this in the spring of the year he had condemned the UMWA and warned the miners against it. This about-face we found characteristic of operators and officials of Harlan. Now that the UMWA was dead in Harlan, the corpse came to be spoken of with touching respect by its old enemies.

"From July 30 to August 3, there were strong efforts on the part of the operators to prevent the holding of a state convention of the NMU at Wallins Creek. Wholesale raids on miners' homes were accompanied by a great deal of illegal searching of automobiles. The convention was held however, on August 2 in spite of the terror which had led up to it. Miners guarded the entrance to Wallins Creek and five hundred Negro and white elected delegates were present including women. Late at night after the convention two car-loads of NMU men were arrested and personal property taken from them. The arrest was without warrant or provocation.

"On August 10, the Evarts soup kitchen was dynamited. This was one of seven maintained by the NMU. Shortly after the dynamiting, Finley and Caleb Powers who were guards at one of the other soup kitchens were arrested on charges of 'banding and confederating.' They were unarmed and at the time of their arrest were fixing the fires for the next day's cooking. Other acts of terrorism committed against the union are to be found elsewhere in the committee's record. Their repetition here is unnecessary; they did not succeed in halting the spread of the union. Two miners were shot and killed by thugs in the Harlan soup line in cold blood."

As a result of the reports of suffering and violence, nation-wide attention was centered on Harlan County. Large numbers of newspaper­men, individual investigators, and delegations visited the region to verify the reports. One of the first of the investigators to visit the field was Louis Stark of the New York Times, and the results of his investigations were published in that paper in the latter part of September. The first of the delegations was the so-called Dreiser Committee, sponsored by the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. This was followed by a committee headed by Waldo Frank. Then, early in 1932, a rapid succession of delegations visited Southeastern Kentucky, but not all of these forays were able to get into the region to complete their investiga-

tions. A group of Columbia University students got as far as Middlesboro (Bell County) and then were escorted to the state border by a group of public-spirited citizens under the leadership of County Attorney Walter B. Smith of Bell County. Another student group from Commonwealth College were badly beaten before being escorted out of the state. The dramatization of the conditions prevailing in the region brought about a brief investigation by a Senate Subcommittee of the Committee of Manufactures. Early in 1932, the following resolution was introduced in the United States Senate:

"Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary, or any duly authorized subcommittee thereof, is authorized and directed to investigate the conditions existing in the coal fields in Harlan and Bell Counties, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, with a view of determining particularly (1) whether any system of peonage has been or is being maintained in such coal fields; (2) whether the postal service and facilities have been or are being obstructed or interfered with therein, and if so, by whom; (3) whether citizens of the United States have been arrested, tried or convicted in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (4) whether firearms, ammunition, or explosives have been shipped into such coal fields from states other than Kentucky, and if so, by whom shipped and by whom paid for; (5) whether any unlawful conditions exist or have existed in such coal fields which interfere or have interfered with the production for interstate shipment, or otherwise with the interstate shipment, of coal from such coal fields; and (6) the causes leading up to the conditions reported to exist in such coal fields. The committee shall report to the Senate as soon as practicable the results of its investigations, together with its recom­mendations, if any, for necessary remedial legislation.

"For the purpose of this resolution the committee, or any duly authorized subcommittee thereof, is authorized to hold such hearings, to sit and act at such times and places during the sessions and recesses of the Senate in the Seventy-second Congress until the final report is submitted, to employ such clerical and other assistants, to require by subpoena or other­wise the attendance of such witnesses and the production of such books, Papers, and documents, as it deems advisable. The cost of stenographic services to report such hearings shall not be in excess of 25 cents per hundred words. The expenses of the committee shall be paid from the contingent fund of the Senate upon vouchers as approved by the chairman."

The subcommittee was composed of Senator Bronson Cutting, Senator Edward P. Costigan and Senator D. H. Hatfield of West Virginia. Senator Hatfield did not agree with the majority report and filed a minority report.
Because of the limitations imposed on the subcommittee by the re­strictions to voluntary appearance of witnesses in Washington, the Senate investigation was necessarily incomplete. Nevertheless, enough evidence was obtained in three days of hearings to warrant the following con­clusions:

"As suggested at the outset of this report the subcommittee has reached the conclusion that a prima facie showing has been made of autocratic and other antisocial conditions and of violated legal and con­stitutional rights. The charges are too grave to be ignored and in fairness require additional testimony more searchingly and effectively made available in and out of the affected coal mining area. The subcommittee's experience in the preliminary inquiries has persuasively indicated that authority to visit Kentucky and to subpoena witnesses, conferred in a formally authorized investigation, are vital to the complete disclosure of underlying and relevant facts, without which serious efforts to consider or formulate remedial legislation will be definitely hampered. The Committee therefore recommends the prompt adoption of Senate Resolution 178, with the one amendment above specified."Senate Hatfield disagreed with the majority report in a letter dated July 11, 1932 to Senator Costigan. He set forth reasons for his disagree­ment.* Hatfield based his objections to what he called the disrupting in­fluence of a U. S. Senate investigation of the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strike while he was governor of West Virginia. He said: "It delayed an adjustment of the strike after a contest of a year and a half." He said that the UMWA was opposed to the investigation and said that the agitators for a probe emanated from radical agitators. Hatfield also said he believed that "it is quite possible that it (the investigation) would incite new antagonisms that are dormant at the present time." In spite of the recommendation of the subcommittee, the investigation was not conducted and any national interest in Harlan County was diverted by the gloom of the nation-wide economic depression.

It was at this point that the NMU died in Harlan County, if indeed it had ever lived there. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the fact that a strike was called by the Communists in Harlan County in 1932 but not one single man-day lost was reported during, the year on account of work stoppages. At this point in the history of Bloody Harlan, both the Communists and the UM\yA had been driven out. A sharp change occur­red in 1933 when it would have appeared that success for the union was not at all possible.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   16

The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page