‘Matewan Massacre’ A Century Ago Embodied Miners’ StrugglesHistorians in the News
tags: labor, West Virginia, Coal, Appalachia
The bullet holes in the brick wall of a former post office serve as a reminder of how Appalachian coal miners fought to improve the lives of workers a century ago.
Ten people were killed in a gun battle between miners, who were led by a local police chief, and a group of private security guards hired to evict them for joining a union in Matewan, a small “company town” in West Virginia.
Plans to publicly commemorate what became known as the Matewan Massacre have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic until September at least. But historians consider the bloodshed on May 19, 1920, memorialized in the 1987 film “Matewan,” to be a landmark moment in the battles for workers’ rights that raged across the Appalachian coalfields in the early 20th century.
“The company town system was extremely oppressive,” said Lou Martin, a history professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and a board member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan. “The company owned the houses, the only store in town, ran the church and controlled every aspect of the miners’ lives.”
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