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Black Coal Miners in America

Black Coal Miners in America: Race, Class, and Community Conflict, 1780-1980

Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Black Coal Miners in America
    Book Description:

    From the early day of mining in colonial Virginia and Maryland up to the time of World War II, blacks were an important part of the labor force in the coal industry. Yet in this, as in other enterprises, their role has heretofore been largely ignored. Now Roland L. Lewis redresses the balance in this comprehensive history of black coal miners in America.

    The experience of blacks in the industry has varied widely over time and by region, and the approach of this study is therefore more comparative than chronological. Its aim is to define the patterns of race relations that prevailed among the miners.

    Using this approach, Lewis finds five distractive systems of race relations. There was in the South before and after the Civil War a system of slavery and convict labor -- an enforced servitude without legal compensation. This was succeeded by an exploitative system whereby the southern coal operators, using race as an excuse, paid lower wages to blacks and thus succeeded in depressing the entire wage scale. By contrast, in northern and midwestern mines, the pattern was to exclude blacks from the industry so that whites could control their jobs and their communities. In the central Appalachians, although blacks enjoyed greater social equality, the mine operators manipulated racial tensions to keep the work force divided and therefore weak. Finally, with the advent of mechanization, black laborers were displaced from the mines to such an extent that their presence in the coal fields in now nearly a thing of the past.

    By analyzing the ways race, class, and community shaped social relations in the coal fields,Black Coal Miners in Americamakes a major contribution to the understanding of regional, labor, social, and African-American history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5044-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. Part I. Expropriation:: Forced Labor

    • 1 Slavery
      (pp. 3-12)

      Slavery represented the most fundamental cleavage separating the North and the South before the Civil War, and the social fissures it generated found their way into virtually every sphere of southern life in endlessly complex patterns. Certainly this was true in labor and industrial relations. A society based on slavery dictated that other institutions, and the ideologies which supported them, be compatible with the whole. Industrial and labor relations in the North evolved within the context of a free market and free labor ideology, but in the South the relations between capital and labor were planted and nurtured in a...

    • 2 Convict Labor
      (pp. 13-36)

      Emancipation terminated slave labor in the coal industry as it did throughout the South, but some of the economic benefits derived from forced labor were preserved, at least for a few mine operators, in the new bondage of convict leasing. Although leasing convicts to private contractors was common in the South, it became prevalent in the coalfields only of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Other southern states with significant coal reserves did not use prison labor in mining. The manifold rewards derived from convict leasing prompted charges that the system was merely an attempt to reinstitute slavery in new form, but...

  6. Part II. Exploitation:: The South

    • 3 The Social Equality Wedge in Alabama, 1880-1908
      (pp. 39-57)

      The bituminous coal industry was one of the keystones in the New South edifice, but the natural tensions between modern industrial capitalism and the South’s traditional social values and customs soon became the source of internal conflict. At the vortex of this conflict was the Afro-American worker. Ironically, at the very time that blacks were being disfranchised and segregated and slavery was being modified into the caste system of jim crow, blacks found increasing economic opportunities in the South’s expanding industrial base. Whether blacks could best improve their economic position through competition or cooperation with white-dominated industrial unions, however, raised...

    • 4 Resurgence of the UMWA in Alabama, 1920-1940
      (pp. 58-76)

      Unionism in the Alabama coalfields languished following the destruction of the UMWA during the 1908 strike. Alabama UMWA membership plummeted from 4,089 dues-paying members in 1908 to 214 in 1913. The UMWA continued to monitor conditions in Alabama and established an investigating committee in 1913 to study the prospects for reviving the union there. The committee decided, however, that an organizing campaign was likely to fail at that time because of the unified opposition of operators and state and local public officials. It would be folly, the committee concluded, to call the men out in Alabama before the UMWA was...

  7. Part III. Exclusion:: The North

    • 5 Job Control & Racial Conflict in the North & West, 1870-1903
      (pp. 79-98)

      “You northern people don’t know what you have done,” an unnamed southern general was reported to have declared after the Civil War. “You will yet see these blacks you have freed go North and come into competition with free white labor.¹ The general’s prediction soon became a reality in the coalfields above the Ohio River, where imported southern blacks began breaking the strikes of white miners as early as the 1870s. The exceptional racial violence which accompanied the importation of black strikebreakers was at least partially explained by two early scholars of black labor, Sterling Spero and Abram Harris, who...

    • 6 Race, Class, Community, & the UMWA in the North
      (pp. 99-118)

      Social relations in the northern coal communities were severely strained by the importation of black strikebreakers from the South, and these tensions carried over into the fledgling UMWA’s local and district organizations. Racial and ethnic prejudices confronted the union at every turn, but so too did the awareness that a broader ideological unity was essential to the survival of the organization. With its highly diverse ethnic and racial composition, a membership scattered in independent rural or semirural communities where local prejudices could easily prevail over union principles, and an industrial basis of organization, the UMWA was compelled to forge a...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
  8. Part IV. Equality:: Central Appalachia

    • 7 Judicious Mixture in Central Appalachia, 1880-1920
      (pp. 121-142)

      The prevailing patterns of race relations in the American coalfields resulted in the exclusion of blacks in the North and nearly complete dependence upon them in the South. Correspondingly, the struggle for control of the labor process set the course of race, class, and community conflict along diametrically opposite paths in North and South. In vast portions of industrializing central Appalachia, however, no racial group held an established position in the mines or the company towns. Here, operators maintained control over their workers through a policy of “judicious mixture,” which enabled them to divide and conquer by offering the carrot...

    • 8 The Fruits of Judicious Mixture, 1910-1932
      (pp. 143-164)

      Southern blacks chose the unknown dangers of life and labor in central Appalachian coal mines for sound economic reasons. The southern caste system dictated that blacks receive the worst jobs and lower pay than whites for the same work, whereas in the northern fields blacks all too frequently found themselves excluded entirely. Although racist attitudes were prevalent among white employers and white workers in central Appalachia too, the severe labor shortage in an expanding industrial labor market eliminated the most blatant forms of racial discrimination.

      Blacks not only were welcomed in the mountain coalfields, they were given equal wages for...

  9. Part V. Elimination:: An Epilogue

    • 9 Demise of the Black Miner
      (pp. 167-190)

      Before the Great Depression, coal mining was a labor-intensive industry organized around the relatively independent skilled miner who exercised considerable control over his own job. As the use of mechanical loaders spread throughout the industry during the 1930s and 1940s, the integrated factory system moved underground, transforming not only the production process but the nature of work itself. With more machinery, coal mining became less labor-intensive, and the number of machine operators, maintenance men, and service personnel increased, while the percentage of independent practical miners declined. Blacks were disproportionately affected by these changes, their numbers in the industry falling from...

  10. Appendix: Employment of Blacks in the Bituminous Coal Industry, 1900-1980
    (pp. 191-193)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 194-226)
  12. Primary Sources
    (pp. 227-231)
  13. Index
    (pp. 232-239)