I got into a fight once about a water fountain. I was in 9th grade and I remember they had started busing and integrating our schools. There was one big girl who would stand in the line and give "uppsies" to all of her friends until the rest of us were late to class for thirst.
You must know in those days there was no air conditioning in schools, just fans, so the pitiful 4 minutes between classes became a crucial race to hit a water fountain. After a couple of days of the girl letting friends in line ahead of her I was marked tardy to class, so, the very next day I asked the person who was behind the girl to tell her it was her turn next and not to allow her to pass her friends to the fountain while holding up the line on the rest of us. Oh, No, I can't do that; she said she was afraid. No boy would get behind the girl to do it either. So I told them all tomorrow I get behind her and I will tell her. (You must visualize me freckled, tall & gangly, and blue eyed; we had moved to that school in the middle of 9th grade so most people didn't know me at all).
As I stood behind the big girl and she began to let someone in front of her, I said,
"Pardon me but you are next and I am after you"
To which she replied, "No, it's my turn and she's ahead of me".
I told her she was not to let others pass before me because we were all thirsty. We may have pushed or shoved, I can't remember but she hit me first and we were in a loud, busy, fist fight. It was broken up quickly and we were sent to the principals office where we told our stories.
She was suspended and sent home. I can say for a fact: I picked that fight because I felt she was wrong, however, we both were at fault for fighting. In the school handbook it said if you were caught fighting it was one weeks suspension for all involved. That's when I discovered how easy it is to be white and get away with things.
I wanted to be suspended just like that girl, and I even said so when it was just the principal and I left in the office, he said she hit first and that was why she was suspended and you are not. I knew better than that, it was race. I did not feel like a hero.
I could have spoke up in front of everyone in that office and demanded that they suspend me to (which my moral compass was saying) instead I went back to class ashamed of myself and I never, ever felt good about it. All the other kids thought I was great; except her friends who now wanted to "cut my hair", "beat me up", and teach me a lesson: all those scary things that threats can do. I was a marked girl. I skipped the entire last week of school because my Mother let me stay home because I was afraid.
I tell you this story because of three things.
1. Stand up to bullies.-It was how I was raised.
2. Take up for those unable to do so for themselves.
3. Omitting truth is a lie. Even if it is unsaid.
Grandmother told me she played with a little girl in the '30's whom was her very best friend. One day an Aunt from back east came to visit and told her she should not play with "colored kids". Grandmother said she never knew a difference and no-one had ever called them colored before. Until the day that Aunt went home she could not play with her friend. Afterward her Mom told her she could now play again and to never mind what the Aunt said.
Grandmother said, "we never played the same way again because we knew there was a difference, we pretended it didn't matter but it hurt me forever". I remember her saying that. I know what it felt like.
The very same Grandmother, Maxine (Earl's wife) in the early '60's stopped on a road trip to Florida on vacation and accidentally used a "colored" bathroom.
As Grandfather said it, "She came out and the men started talking down to her about using that bathroom and didn't she have the good sense to read"?
Grandfather said I told her Maxine, go get in the car (she did) and then I proceeded to cuss everyone of those people out (within hearing distance) and called anyone of them out to fight like a man.
He told me that he asked them all, "why in the hell do you have colored bathrooms down here anyway? You should all be ashamed of yourselves this is no way to live in a free country".
They must have thought him crazy or perhaps they thought he had a gun, I know he would have shot them dead or fought whichever had been the case. Grandfather was no fool. He got in his car and went down the road. He was tough as nails.
When he was 7 or 8 he would get up at 4am to bake biscuits for his older brothers and Dad who were leaving before daybreak to go into the mines. He packed the lunch pails with lunch and dinner and put the water inside to keep it cool. This was his task as part of the family. He would laugh and say he made the best biscuits so that's why he had the task. The train would pull up out front and you had to be out there on the flat car to ride to the mine. Earl said it would be dark and you could hear the train easing up the tracks as the men filed out to jump on a car.
If a man did not come out at the appointed time, company men called "shack rousters" would come and rap on the door and call for the miner to come out. If he did not with the quickness they'd walk into the house to the bed and rap the bed once and then land one on the miners head. If he was sick, too bad, he got up to go, if he was hungover, that was even worse, he'd take the a** whipping and then go. If he was unable to go they beat him and left him for the moment. Next day they'd be back. No sick leave in those days.
You see the miners all had to work off the "rent" of the house, the "rent" of the tools, "pick axes and shovels", everything from the company store, the furniture they rented, cooking pans, rugs, clothes, food, all came out of their weekly pay. Only problem was they were not paid in US currency, The company printed and minted their own coinage. Most weeks men were in the hole and owing the company. Thats why the thugs were insistent upon every able bodied man to be in that mine working. Everyday each mans' car was weighed he was accounted so much per ton. Also, if you got blacklisted you could be cheated out of your load of coal because the weigh-men would pull your hanging tag (ID) and hang another tag on the car as if someone else had loaded it. No-one was there to watch without bias. This was a terrible problem. The men had no allies. The weigh-men and mine thugs/guards were well paid.
During the strike when Great-grandfathers mine was just joining the union they asked for these things:
1. "That the operators accept and recognize the union"
2. "That the miners right to free speech and peaceable assembly be restored"
3. "That black-listing discharged workers be stopped"
4. "That compulsory trading at company stores be ended"
5. "That cribbing be discontinued and that 2,000 pounds of mined coal constitute a ton"
6. "That scales be installed at mines to weigh the tonnage of the miners"
7. "That miners be allowed to employ their own check-weighmen to check against the weights found by company check-weighmen, as provided by law"
8. "That the two check-weighmen determine all docking penalties"
In those early days they had no choice but to spend at the Company store, AND the company routinely "cribbed" or widened the coal cars to allow more tonnage than what they were paid for. If the miners got a raise, the prices went up at the company store to counter balance any loss from the company.
The only way around that was 11 miles walk out to an A&P Grocery Store where foodstuffs could be purchased cheaper-but only with US currency! One must understand that starvation was a real affect BEFORE the strike because they would blacklist a miner from purchasing at the company store and say to him "Your Script is no good here"! This would be done to people who whispered union or organize.
Why Charles Arnold, my Great-Grandfather said they had to nail blankets over the windows to meet at night because if there was ever a notice of men all meeting up it had better be at church on Sunday. They would become blacklisted. He said they met by candlelight and no man would come at the same time. Some would come through a back door others through a window, different directions and times until they could all huddle and talk about what to do.
The men would quietly dissipate into the night, never leaving all at once, never meeting at the same house the next time. You see, there was no right to free assembly. Beatings, sharpshooters killing, and arrests were daily events during the strike. Remember once they decided to strike, they were thrown out of the houses to live in tents, with armed trains going by daily. I was told that company snipers hid up in the hill at the head of the creek and when any outside person tried to come in they were shot and killed. So many Union organizers were killed till the Union begged the Governor to protect their right to send men in to the miners. There was only one way in and one way out and that was by train or walking.
I told you that the miners were in the tribulation room, and they read the Bible and believed God was on their side. The knew it said in the Old Testament that if you have a problem with your neighbor you go to him in confidence and speak about the matter. If he will not hear you you are to take a brother along with you, two or more, to witness to this Brother and reason with him as to his wrongs. They saw collective bargaining rights as just that.
Modern day example: I work at Joes restaurant.
Joe, I need a raise, I've been with you over a year.
No, I cant afford to give you one, I can easily replace you.
So, I should go get the cook and the waitress and all of us ask for a raise because we have all been there a while with no recognition for all the hard work we have done. (Proverbs)
The truth is Joe may listen if all his employees reason with him together.
Therein lay a moral and ethical foundation for them to UNIONIZE.
I told you the story of the water fountain to tell you something else, after the Civil War my Mommy said there were beautiful advertisements about how freed slaves could come North of the Mason-Dixon line and live with their families in "Company Houses". It lured thousands and thousands. Grandfather said his Daddy never had a bad thing to say about anybody, they just saw themselves back in the tents after WW1 and others filling their homes and jobs. Yes, they were angry, Yes, they were hurt, Yes they was name calling and Yes there was the Bible. What were they to do?
I was going to tell you why the Battle of Blair Mountain is not told but I realized I must share a couple of other things first and I promise to do so in the next part. Promise. Cross my heart and Hope to Die. Please watch this VIDEO first.