Remember the unit on "Industrialization" in your high school American history textbook? Probably it was right after the Civil War and Reconstruction. This unit usually included coverage of poor conditions for workers, labor struggles, exemplified by the steelworkers strike in Homestead in 1892, the creation of the AFL and the CIO, and maybe the Wobblies.
But the brief text coverage needs to be filled out with novels and nonfiction accounts of particular groups, particular strikes, and films about the time. There are all sorts of books about the Civil War, almost every U.S. war in fact, There are books, plays, movies set in the Depression, the Antebellum South, the western frontier, that give us a taste of those times and places. Much less so for the Industrial Age and the ongoing, low level civil strife of the labor struggles. And very little on the coal mine wars in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
Those struggles were a cold war that sometimes turned hot. They included massacres, pitched batles, and wholesale rebellions (years of low level civil war). To open a newspaper from that era is to see references to Labor and Capital , with capital letters, thrown around like "mayor's office" and "state budget" today (along with ads for ladies' hats and new appliances), and strikes were frequent. All this was against a background of progress and interwoven with immigration.
At Temple University, I did an independent study to find out more about the events surrounding the Matewan Massacre. I found no articles in history journals about it, nor about the subsequent Battle of Blair Mountain, the biggest past-Civil War rebellion in U.S. history. There are no novels or films about Blair Mountain either, although there is some interest in preserving it as a historic place now that coal companies are eying it for mountain top removal to get at the coal underneath.
Where is the Ken Burns of the coal mine wars, or of the Labor movement, or of Appalachian history? There is a hole in our country's history. This backward situation has begun to change slightly with John Sayles' film Matewan in 1987. There have been a couple of books by journalists about the era, only one or two by historians. As our country moves to a post-industrial society, some look back to the industrial era as history to be preserved. Several defunct coal mines have opened as museums.
The mission of this website is to call attention to the Coal Wars, and to direct visitors to where they can learn more.