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African American Miners and Migrants

African American Miners and Migrants: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club

Afterword by William H. Turner
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    African American Miners and Migrants
    Book Description:

    Thomas E. Wagner and Phillip J. Obermiller's African American Miners and Migrants documents the lives of Eastern Kentucky Social Club (EKSC) members, a group of black Appalachians who left the eastern Kentucky coalfields and their coal company hometowns in Harlan County. _x000B__x000B_Bound together by segregation, the inherent dangers of mining, and coal company paternalism, it might seem that black miners and mountaineers would be eager to forget their past. Instead, members of the EKSC have chosen to celebrate their Harlan County roots. African American Miners and Migrants uses historical and archival research and extensive personal interviews to explore their reasons and the ties that still bind them to eastern Kentucky. The book also examines life in the model coal towns of Benham and Lynch in the context of Progressive Era policies, the practice of welfare capitalism, and the contemporary national trend of building corporate towns and planned communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09273-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The life of poet Effie Waller Smith encompassed much of the history of the people described in this book—black Appalachian migrants from the eastern Kentucky coalfields. At first, it seems Effie Smith would have little in common with the members of the Eastern Kentucky Social Club, most of whom lived in coal towns and were miners or are the children of miners. There is no evidence that the poet ever lived in a company town or a coal camp, even though some of her students probably did, because major coal operators opened mines in Pike County while she was...

  5. CHAPTER 1 “Coming Up on the Rough Side of the Mountain”: African Americans and Coal Camps in Appalachia
    (pp. 5-16)

    The African American men and women who were recruited to work and live in the coal towns of Benham and Lynch were not the first blacks in Appalachia. African Americans have a long history in the Appalachian mountains. They accompanied the earliest French and Spanish explorers into the region as both freedmen and as slaves. William Turner believes that blacks in Appalachia were some of “America’sfirstblacks—appearing almost a century before the landing at Jamestown.”¹

    Slavery was practiced throughout the southern Appalachian mountains. Nearly a thousand black slaves, for instance, accompanied their Cherokee masters out of the region...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “Life for Me Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair”: African Americans in Coal Towns
    (pp. 17-34)

    Although there is no evidence that racist and separatist practices were less prevalent in the Appalachian mountains than elsewhere, special conditions seem to have prevailed in coal towns. In the early days of the Appalachian coalfields, when labor shortages put a premium on workers, companies considered black coal miners to be valuable assets and actively sought them out to work in the mines. White labor agents spread out across the Deep South, accompanied by black associates “who were carefully selected for their eloquence and their willingness to disregard the truth.”¹ Newspaper advertisements offering relatively generous salaries also lured black farmers...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “I Don’t Know Where To, but We’re Moving”: African American Survival Strategies in Coal Towns
    (pp. 35-51)

    In his study of southern West Virginia coal miners, David Corbin argues that the constrained atmosphere created and maintained in company-controlled coal towns strongly favored class consciousness over racial or ethnic consciousness. He maintains that the extensive corporate control experienced by residents of these towns led to antagonism between management and employees rather than interracial animosities. There were no race riots in company towns, for example, but the historical record is replete with coalfield “battles,” “wars,” and “massacres” stemming from company resistance to worker organizing. Corbin contends that coal operators carefully orchestrated every detail of the miners’ workplaces, housing, schools,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “Sing a Song of ‘Welfare’”: Corporate Communities and Welfare Capitalism in Southeastern Kentucky
    (pp. 52-67)

    Between 1900 and 1930 Harlan County, Kentucky, the setting for Benham and Lynch, underwent a rapid transformation from an agrarian, pre-capitalist economy to a heavily industrialized area owned and controlled by large corporations. Harlan County’s big new industry was coal mining. The first trainload of coal was shipped out of the county in 1911, and by 1928 nine major coal seams were producing more than fourteen million tons a year.¹ Since joining the retinue of King Coal at the beginning of the twentieth century, Harlan County’s population has reflected the economics of mining.

    There were relatively few miners in Harlan...

  9. CHAPTER 5 “Living Tolerably Well Together”: Life in Model Towns along Looney Creek
    (pp. 68-90)

    The opening of the Harlan County coalfields came when the L&N Railroad completed the Wasiota and Black Mountain Branch of its rail lines into the county in the early 1900s. By 1921 Harlan had become the top coal-producing county in Kentucky. The coal operations established by International Harvester at Benham in 1910 and United States Steel at Lynch seven years later ultimately became the largest in the county. The two towns also became thriving communities that fluctuated in size as the need for coal, and therefore labor, rose and fell. Ample evidence of their origins as model towns can be...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “What Kept You Standing, Why Didn’t You Fall?”: African Americans in Benham and Lynch
    (pp. 91-99)

    The literature about coal towns in Appalachia presents a mixed view of life in these communities. The conventional view is that of a harsh, bleak existence under the dictatorial rule of mine operators. Ron Eller and David Corbin as well as several writers of fiction and popular song have suggested that life was brutal in many towns owned or controlled by coal companies. Popular reactions to the bleak life in camps range from Mother Jones, who vowed to bring the coal barons to the attention of the Almighty when she passed on to her reward, to an English visitor who...

  11. CHAPTER 7 “One Close Community”: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club
    (pp. 100-110)

    The formation of social clubs by immigrant ethnic groups is a well-established feature of the American social landscape. The United States is a nation of migrants, and every major city hosts at least a few such organizations, each dedicated to celebrating the food, drink, music, dance, and lore of a specific heritage. Following World War II, thousands of migrants from the Appalachian mountains streamed north in increasingly larger waves to seek jobs. The Great Migration, as this mass movement came to be called, found urban leaders, social workers, educators, and others in the destination cities struggling to cope with the...

  12. CHAPTER 8 “They Love Coming Home”: Appalachian Ties That Bind
    (pp. 111-120)

    In the end it is fair to ask, What is unusual about the Eastern Kentucky Social Club? Overall, its members do not seem exceptional in comparison to other members of African American or Appalachian migrant organizations, to other black miners, or even to other black residents of company-owned towns in the Appalachian coalfields. In fact, there appear to be, at some levels, more similarities than differences among these groups.¹

    African American migrants from the Deep South have established many urban associations that are rooted in communities that often experienced much more devastating forms of racism than those found in southeastern...

  13. Afterword: Values, Spoken and Unspoken
    (pp. 121-130)
    William H. Turner

    “What did you think of this fighter?” heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis was asked at the end of his famous bout against Max Schmeling in front of seventy thousand fans at Yankee Stadium in 1938. Joe, known as the Brown Bomber, replied in his own unique way: “I ain’t nevah hit nobody dat hard, dat many times and he didn’t go down. If he hadnt’a fell after I hit him with dat las’ uppercut, I was gonna go ’round back a’ him, to see jes’ what wuz holdin’ him up!”¹

    In the late 1930s it could be accurately declared that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 131-142)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 143-154)
  16. Index
    (pp. 155-158)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-160)