The Violent Remaking of Appalachia
Central Appalachia’s history is the story of coal. At its peak in the mid-20th century, mining employed more than 150,000 people in West Virginia alone, mostly in the state’s otherwise poor and rugged counties. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America, a muscular, strike-prone union that allied itself with Franklin Roosevelt to support the New Deal, anchored the solidly Democratic highlands where West Virginia meets eastern Kentucky and Virginia’s western-most tip. In 1921, during the fight to unionize the region’s mines, ten thousand armed miners engaged strike-breakers and an anti-union militia in a five-day gun battle in which more than a hundred people were killed. The Army arrived by presidential order and dispersed the miners, dealing a decade-long setback to the UMWA.