1923 August 12

Report Condemns Violations of Rights of Miners in Coal Fields


The Committee on Coal and Civil Liberties on this day delivered a report to the U.S. Coal Commission (a federal agency) that condemned the violation of the rights of coal miners in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Alabama. Miners lived in rental houses on mine corporation property and were forced to sign leases prohibiting any visitors in their homes. Law enforcement, meanwhile, was largely controlled by the mine owners, with deputy sheriffs being paid by the coal corporations. The sheriff of Fayette County, West Virginia, for example, employed 6,180 deputies, all paid by the mine owners.

The report was signed by a number of prominent civil libertarians, including Harvard Law Professor and First Amendment scholar Zechariah Chafee, and Rev. John A. Ryan, head of the National Catholic Social Welfare Council and a prominent social activist.

In the 1920s, the rights of workers and labor unions were one of the major civil liberties issues for the ACLU. The denial of the basic First Amendment rights to discuss unionism, to hold meetings, and to picket employers was widespread. See for example: September 1, 1922; March 23, 1932; and July 5, 1935.

Learn more: Alessandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (2011)

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

Learn more about the struggle of the coal miners: John Hevener, Which Side Are You On?: The Harlan County Coal Miners, 1931–1939 (1978)

Watch the documentary, Harlan County USA (1976): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

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