American Experience: The Mine Wars

American Experience: The Mine Wars

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm

Credit: American Experience

Go inside the bitter battle to unionize coal miners at the dawn of the 20th century.

At the dawn of the 20th century, coal was the fuel that powered the nation. Yet few Americans thought much about the men who blasted the black rock from underground and hauled it to the surface. The Mine Wars, premiering Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 9-11 p.m. on WXXI-TV, tells the overlooked story of the miners in the mountains of southern West Virginia — native mountaineers, African American migrants, and European immigrants — who came together in a protracted struggle for their rights. Decades of violence accompanied their attempts to form a union, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. The West Virginia mine wars raised profound questions about what freedom and democracy meant to working people in an industrial society. Featuring extensive archival footage, including a recently discovered newsreel of the aftermath of the Battle of Blair Mountain, and interviews with authors, historians, and descendants of miners, the film is executive produced by Mark Samels, produced and directed by Randall MacLowry, and written by Mark Zwonitzer. 

The Mine Wars features a remarkable cast of characters, including labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who was 64 years old when she arrived in the coalfields of southern West Virginia in 1901. Known as “the miner’s angel” and a self-proclaimed “hell-raiser,” Mother Jones came to convince coal miners in the area to stop acting like “cringing serfs” and join the UMWA — the United Mine Workers of America. One of those heeding her call was Frank Keeney, a fourth-generation West Virginian who rose to become district leader for the union.