1932 May 12

Judge to Accompany ACLU Leaders in West Virginia Coal Area to Protect Them


In the midst of a coal strike in Harlan and Bell Counties, West Virginia, the ACLU represented the striking miners’ First Amendment right to picket and organize a union. Union efforts faced threats and violence by vigilantes hired by the coal mine operators. The ACLU sought an injunction to ensure protection in its effort to aid mine workers and, on this day, a judge said he would accompany ACLU leaders in the Harlan and Bell counties to guard against “harm” to them.

In the 1920s, the struggles of labor unions to organize, involving systematic denial of freedom of speech and assembly, particularly in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was one of the major issues for the ACLU. Organized labor finally won legal protection with the Norris-LaGuardia Act on May 23, 1932, and even more importantly with the Wagner Act on July 5, 1935.

Learn more about the ACLU in the 1920s: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Listen to Come All Ye Coal Miners: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_TqxrZpkQU

Watch the film, Matewan, based on real events in the coal fields: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093509/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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