Historic Resource Study
Kay Moor
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For 25 years the Low Moor Iron Company of Low Moor, Virginia, mined coal from the Sewell seam in the New River Gorge at Kay Moor. Two mines were opened, one with a life far exceeding that of its parent company, and another, smaller mine which supplied coal from a thin seam only during peak periods of demand for coal and iron. The coal at Kay Moor was so rich and pure and plentiful that it not only fed the furnaces at Low Moor, but later in its life it probably powered the U.S. Navy as well. When the two mines were sold in 1925 the new owner closed the smaller mine, Kay Moor No. 2, but continued to operate the larger until 1962. The emphasis in this resource study is on the larger mine at Kay Moor, known as Kay Moor No. 1.

Kay Moor No. 1

The Kay Moor No. 1 mine was opened on a south hillside of the New River on the south side branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. It was two miles upstream from the town of South Fayette. (See illustration 1 for map of Kay Moor and vicinity and illustration 4 for map of the Kay Moor mine.) The mine entered the three-foot three-inch Sewell seam outcrop at 1,490 feet elevation. Analyses of the Sewell seam in 1904 revealed the coal at Kay Moor contained 0.96 moisture, 25.14 volatile matter, 71.15 fixed carbon, 2.75 ash, 0.005 phosphorus, and burned at 14.965 B.T.U. [1] The mine was opened by James Kay, who engineered construction of a rail siding and a transport system to carry the coal from the mine entry down the side of the gorge to the railroad next to the river. Coal was removed when the mine's main entry and horizontal air passages were constructed. A 1,000-foot inclined plane on tracks was built to carry the coal from the headhouse at the mine entry level to the tipple next to the railroad. Eight-ton monitors carried the coal down the gorge wall and across a wooden trestle to the tipple. The weight of a descending monitor pulled a second up the wire to the mine entrance. [2]

Before World War I the techniques involved with mining coal did not change much from the traditional methods. Even though mining machines were in use after 1900, and were used at Kay Moor, most coal was dug with human muscle power, and was loaded by hand. Advanced methods of preparing and cleaning coal did not come until the 1920s. [3]

Once a mine was opened and a coal seam reached, long corridors were developed. In almost all American deep mines small working areas were opened off the entries. These were called rooms, and pillars were left standing to support the roof in the rooms. This method of coal mining was called the room-and-pillar system. [4] Kay Moor No. 1 was a room-and-pillar mine, with a main double drift entry and side entries. As rooms were opened huge blocks of coal were left in place after mining to support the roof. In each of the rooms where the mining occurred the miners shoveled coal into cars which mules pulled from the rooms and side entries to the main track and headhouse. After electricity became available electric locomotives hauled the coal cars on the main track.

The actual mining procedure, once the miners reached their working rooms, involved undercutting the coal "face." This made the blasting safer and ensured more production of lump sizes of coal. "Shooting off the solid," involving blasting with no previous cutting, resulted in more breakage of coal. This method also increased the danger of roof collapse. After the face was cut, the miners drilled holes into it to inset the blasting charges. The blast loosened not only coal, but impurities such as slate. Some of the impurities were "gobbed," or pushed aside, while others were removed in the tipple. The coal was then loaded into cars for hauling to the mine mouth. [5]

In August 1916 miners at Kay Moor No. 1 were undercutting coal with air punchers and electric chain cutters. The face was broken with black blasting powder. None of the coal was shipped as run-of-mine (ungraded or unsorted). Screening in the tipple had bar screens spaced four inches apart, and approximately 66 percent of the coal passed through these screens. Smaller bar screens with one-and-one-half inch screens produced egg coal. Three loading tracks had a capacity for 16 empty coal cars and 16 loaded coal cars. Storage bins held 400 tons of screened coal and 600 tons of screenings, or fine coal. The unwashed screenings were sent to the coke ovens. In August 1916 about 500 acres of the company's 10,000 acres of coal lands had been worked. The mine's daily output was 550 tons, with a maximum day's run of 750 tons. The output was expected to be increased to 850 tons "in the near future." [6]

In 1923, two years before Kay Moor was sold, 300 men worked in the two mines. Twelve pick and 102 machine miners produced a total of 143,503 tons of coal. Two mules and 17 electric locomotives hauled the coal dug by nine mining machines. [7] Once the coal reached the surface it was processed at the tipple. In the first years this tipple was wooden, and the coal was sorted on screens: the slack and lump was used in the coke ovens while the egg and nut coal was shipped to Low Moor. [8]

The mine and coal processing did not always proceed smoothly. In addition to strikes, the Kay Moor mine was sometimes closed because of equipment failure, landslides which covered the C&O tracks, production lulls, or fires. [9] A fire in April 1913 destroyed the mine's fan house, machine shop, and blacksmith shop. The loss was estimated at $10,000 with $3,500 insurance. One fan was not greatly damaged as it was enclosed by a concrete wall; it was repaired and the mine resumed operations within four days. [10] In February 1924 another fire at Kay Moor No. 1 destroyed the tipple, crushing plant conveyor, and three storage bins. Some of the coal in the bins was saved and used to keep the coke ovens burning. The incline to the mine was saved by tearing a portion of it out to block the fire's spread. A temporary tipple was soon put into operation. [11] A new steel tipple, or processing plant, was completed by April 1926. It was a four-track structure which could handle 250 tons of coal an hour. A new steel coke oven bin was also constructed. [12]

Kay Moor No. 1 was the main producing mine for both the Low Moor Iron Company and the New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company. As previously mentioned, a second mine, Kay Moor No. 2, was opened but never was as large an operation as Kay Moor No. 1.

Kay Moor No. 2

A second mine on Low Moor Iron Company land within the New River Gorge was opened in 1903. The mine was opened into the Sewell seam at an elevation of 1,290 feet, a quarter-mile downriver from the town of South Fayette, on the south side of the river. The coal seam was three feet, one inch high. The mine was often shut down in times of oversupply to the Low Moor Iron Company; when the mine was visited by geologists for the state geological survey in 1916, Kay Moor No. 2 had been idle for 19 months and was just starting up again. Fifty men were working in the mine. Kay Moor No. 2 fine coal was coked at Low Moor, Virginia, while lump coal was sent east for domestic use. [13]

Sometimes when the mine was closed the miners would move over to the Kay Moor No. 1 operation. In November 1911, most of the 100 laid off men started at the larger mine, while inquiries were made into leasing the closed mine. Operations did not start again until March 1912. [14] When the mine closed again in August 1912 about 40 men sought other work. Further closures occurred in 1916 and 1919, due to slack demand and strikes. [15]

A supporting housing community was built for Kay Moor No. 2, located within the incorporate limits of Fayetteville. [16] After the mine was closed in 1926, its passageways served as water drainage for Kay Moor No. 1. [17] The mine presently is filled with cement as it is located directly below the south approach to the New River Gorge Bridge.

Another mine opening was made in May 1904, located near the "mountain wagon road." A "tram road from the lower mine around the side of the mountain" was also built. [18] This mine might have been the "Pinetop Entry" of Kay Moor No. 2. This mine was on the southwest side of "hill road," one-fourth mile south of South Fayette at 1,255 feet elevation. The seam measured three feet, three inches. [19]

Kay Moor Coke

Even though regional industrial development in the Virginias did not occur as hoped, coal operators in the smokeless coal regions continued to manufacture coke. Technological change in the industry occurred slowly; American iron makers were reluctant at first to use coke as fuel for their furnaces, and even after they did, cokemakers continued to use wasteful beehive ovens. Urban coke consumers finally innovated with better processes. Cokemaking was separated from coal mining, and relegated to coking plants in the cities. The by-product oven, which was externally heated and could capture the gasses and other by-products, eventually precipitated the demise of the beehive ovens. [20]

The loss of the coke industry in the New River field had no effect on the use of the area's coal, however. The most suitable coke for use in blast foundries in a by-product oven continued to be made with 20 to 30 percent of the total coal mixture being southern smokeless coal. Southern West Virginia coal stayed in demand. [21]

The New River and Pocahontas coalfields lagged only behind the Connellsville, Pennsylvania region in the production of coke. As early as the 1880s, New River coke was being sold all over the Midwest. By 1902, soon after Kay Moor began operations, 39 companies in southern West Virginia were manufacturing coke in 7,434 ovens. West Virginia coke production reached a peak in 1910 with four million tons. After this time period the by-product ovens were in full use, and the beehive ovens in the New River field were soon closed. [22] The coke ovens at Kay Moor were an exception to this general economic condition as these manufactured products went primarily to fire the furnaces at Low Moor.

Cokemaking began at Kay Moor soon after the mine was opened. In June 1901 a battery of 120 coke ovens were completed at Kay Moor at the bottom of the gorge next to the railroad. Foundations for 120 more were also laid, parallel to the first row. Within the year the ovens produced 15,000 tons of coke for use in the Low Moor furnaces. Analyses of 72-hour coke made from Sewell seam coal at Kay Moor in 1904 revealed 0.07 moisture, 1.18 volatile matter, 88.60 fixed carbon, 10.15 ash, 0.54 sulphur and 0.012 phosphorus. [23] The beehive oven was made of firebrick, and was a circular, vaulted chamber with a flat tile bottom. The oven had an opening at the top and an arched door at the bottom. A fire was built inside the oven to heat the firebrick, and the coal was then added from the top from a "larry" car, which ran on tracks on top of the ovens. Spontaneous combustion occurred when the coal touched the hot firebrick. The coal was then slowly burned for 48 or 72 hours with low oxygen. The process of making coke in beehive ovens was inefficient and wasteful. It additionally was highly polluting, with the release of gases into the air which destroyed surrounding vegetation. [24]

Many workers were needed to tend to the ovens. In the 1920s coke workers at Kay Moor included the following: three foremen, two machine runners, four men changing cars, two men dropping cars, three men dumping coke, one ash man, one car dropper, one shaker man, one engineer, two brakemen, one man dropping cars on new block, two men carrying coal in sacks for machine, one man draughting ovens, four men watering ovens, and one man hauling load. Workers were also needed to clean, level, and daub the ovens. A charger and a helper were hired as well to hand draw the ovens. [25]

These first ovens at Kay Moor were used, even in a state of disrepair, until World War I, when demand dictated more be built. The Janutolo Construction Company of Fayetteville, West Virginia, built 59 new ovens the same size, shape, and dimensions equal to the ovens already at the site in March 1917. A local newspaper reported 20 more ovens were being built in June 1917, "making a total of 202 ovens." [26]

During World War I, 202 coke ovens operated at full capacity at Kay Moor. Electric-powered coke extractors were then purchased to replace the steam-driven machines. Kay Moor coke production reached its peak production of 70,000 tons per year. During its life-time the Kay Moor coke ovens produced 1,208,776 tons of coke. [27] (See illustrations 2 and 3 for Kay Moor coke operations and appendix 3 for Kay Moor coal and coke production.)

These ovens were in use until 1935, when closed by the New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company. [28] The beehive ovens could not compete with the newer, efficient gas-fired furnaces or ovens which could recycle exhaust gases and capture byproducts. [29]

The Miners

Local mountaineers were not numerous enough to supply labor in the southern West Virginia mines, so the coal operators imported a workforce. Labor agents were sent to east coast immigration ports, and sometimes even across the Atlantic Ocean to recruit European labor. Another source of physical working power was southern blacks. From 1880 to 1910 West Virginia's population of black miners increased from zero to 12,000. All but a few hundred labored in the southern West Virginia coal mines. Immigrants tell the same story; in 1880 the state could only boast 924 European immigrant miners, a number which increased to 28,000 by 1910. [30]

In the first few years of Kay Moor's operation, most of its miners were recruited from surrounding coal areas in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia. The 1910 census revealed that many of the Kay Moor inhabitants emigrated from these neighboring states. The Low Moor Iron Company also relied on its own managers and professional recruiters to obtain southern black and European immigrant labor. The workforce at Kay Moor was thus composed of native West Virginians, emigrants from nearby states, southern blacks, and southern and eastern European immigrants. (See appendix 4 for the 1910 census.)

Immigrant Miners

The early British immigrant miners had a profound impact on the coal mining industry. Their ideas and traditions helped define the shape of the industry in America. Paying a portion of wages in material goods was a British tradition, as well as miners supplying their own tools and blasting powder. Also British in origin was the tradition of paying miners according to the tonnage of coal they loaded. Several of the early West Virginia coal operators were British who brought countrymen with them after years of experience in the Pennsylvania anthracite fields. The British usually immigrated with their families, which helped establish stability in the coal towns. The unsuccessful 1902 strike in Pennsylvania and West Virginia precipitated the moving of many British to unionized coal regions, and by 1910 less than 1,000 British miners worked in southern West Virginia. When they left they took with them the sense and meaning of union solidarity and unity. [31] It was a loss which would haunt the United Mine Workers of America for decades.

West Virginians were first interested in attracting immigrants to the state in the early 1870s. The first immigrants were farmers, but their numbers remained few. The large waves of southern or eastern European immigrants began arriving between 1900 and 1917. They grew to number more than half the entire coal industry workforce. [32]

The immigrant miners arrived at the southern West Virginia mines in a variety of ways; some were attracted by relatives who had arrived earlier, others were attracted by the high wages paid in the mines. Still others were recruited by coal company or labor company agents who met them in their native lands. The companies sometimes offered good wages, citizenship, free transportation and an advance on wages. Other companies recruited the workers at Ellis Island in New York City. The agents were often recent immigrants themselves. In many instances the immigrants were led to believe that West Virginia was only a short distance from New York. [33]

The coal companies often brought the men "on transportation" to West Virginia. Transportation was provided and the immigrants then were worked as long as possible to recover the costs. While it is true that many immigrants fully intended to work in the mines to pay their transportation costs, others who did not wish to remain employed in the coal mines were held against their will. They were held in "debt peonage." [34]

Reports of debt peonage and murders of immigrants led to the creation of an immigration bureau. An immigration commissioner, paid by the coal companies, then visited England and Wales, looking for prospective miners. This commissioner's activities were investigated by the United States Senate after the 1912-1913 Paint Creek strike, and the government did not consider West Virginia mines to be safe enough for any miners, let alone immigrant miners. It opposed any further recruitment into West Virginia until the mines met UMWA requirements. Nevertheless, the immigration commissioner continued to attract foreign workers to West Virginia. [35]

As the immigrants kept coming into the state questions were raised as to the value of their work. Many West Virginia newspapers praised the immigrants' industrious ways, while others feared the influx would undermine the wages and living conditions of the native-born Americans. Nativism still came forth, however, especially during strikes. A labor shortage occurred during World War I, when many immigrants who were reservists returned home to fight. A June 1915 estimate was that West Virginia and Pennsylvania had lost a total of 15,000 miners. Usually this would not have been a problem, but the war effectively cut off further immigration. The labor problem was partially solved with the importation of southern blacks. [36]

Many of the first immigrants who arrived in the fields were either single or left their families behind. They often worked to save money to pay passage for their loved ones. Wives contributed to the family income by taking in boarders and doing laundry. The entire household contributed toward the purchase of beer on pay days, and holidays were suitably celebrated. It was noticed that the immigrants generally spent less on liquor than did the blacks or native whites. [37]

According to historian Kenneth R. Bailey, coal companies liked to recruit both immigrants and blacks so there would be a "judicious mixture" of these groups and the native white miners. The companies would then try to use one group against the others to foil unionization attempts. [38]

The largest immigrant group in the New River field were the Italians. Many arrived to work for the railroad and stayed as miners. Additional Italians arrived as strikebreakers in 1902. They soon established a reputation for hard work, thrift, and they saved to bring families over from Italy. Many Italians were skilled masons, and were sought to build coke ovens and stone structures. [39]

Magyars, from the Austro-Hungarian empire, were the second largest immigrant group in the New River field. They worked almost exclusively as pick-miners. Other representative immigrant workers included Germans, Croatians, and Serbs. Most of these immigrants came from agrarian, rural backgrounds, and in 1910 only 10 percent of them had any mining experience in Europe. Many had never before worked for wages. [40]

From 1907 to 1911 the United States Immigration Commission, also called the Dillingham Commission, studied the effects of immigration in the southern West Virginia coalfields. One prominent finding was that job hierarchies did exist based on ethnicity and race. Native whites continued to move from coal digging into supervisory or day-wage positions. Immigrants and blacks continued to draw coke, load, and pick mine at piece rate wages. [41]

As soon as large numbers of immigrants moved into the coalfields the native white Americans began to move out, either to escape the ethnically mixed coal towns or to seek higher wages in unionized coal regions. The UMWA possessed the same attitude toward the southern and eastern Europeans as it did toward black miners. The union's president, John Mitchell, believed the immigrants drove down wages and took jobs away from American whites. However, the union had to embrace the foreign workers in its unionization efforts. [42]

A number of immigrants worked the Kay Moor mine throughout its history. It is not known how they arrived at Kay Moor, or by what means they learned of the available work there, but it is known that some of them were recruited by professional employment agencies as well as by Low Moor management.

In 1907 Atwood's Employment Agency of Chicago, Illinois, run by Mrs. S.J. Atwood, recruited both black and white workers for the Low Moor Iron Company. The company obtained black labor from Roanoke, Virginia, while "Polanders" and Russians were obtained from Philadelphia. The charge for each man was $3.00. [43] It could not be ascertained from the correspondence whether these men were sent to work at Kay Moor or at Low Moor.

Low Moor management also personally recruited workers on occasion. Ed D. Wickes, superintendent at Kay Moor, wrote his father George T. Wickes, manager of mines at Covington in April 1906 about the latest group of recruits:

Tony arrived with twenty one men last night. One got away in Jersey City, two in Washington, four at Charlottesville.

Some of the men are very good looking, but it is the worst lot I have seen, taken as a whole: Irish, German-Jews, and Italians. I got seven started in the mine the first thing this morning: the others will go in Monday. Five Italians promise to be all O.K., and as they will be apt to send for their friends after a time, we may get out even in the long run, but I don't see how Tony slipped up so. The only way it seems to me to be sure of what I am getting is to go myself. Our New York transportations for this place have never proved a success. The first lot I got last week will turn out pretty well from present indications, but they are all green and I have to take good men to run them. This last lot, some of them have not ever been accustomed to hard work. I have great hopes, however. [44]

Relations between the immigrants and management at Kay Moor were not always harmonious. Ed D. Wickes related an incident in a letter dated May 9, 1906:

We are still having trouble with our green foreigners: they wont work when they are on Company time, and they wont work for contractors, so I gave out checks and assigned them working places; they all want the best places and seem to think we have got to take care of them at $2.00 per day, they todo [sic] as they please. Day before yesterday I got 9 of them together and got an interpreter and tried to show them how much they could earn, either by working for contractors or by contracting for themselves, and yesterday, they went into contract. Last night a lot of them came to me saying "No coal cut." This morning I went in to see and found plenty of coal ready to load. So it goes, but they require a lot of patience. Our over-drafts are very heavy on last month's roll, on account of this transportation, and I expect we stand to lose about $300.00 on the two lots from N.Y. [45]

The 1910 census revealed that the immigrants living in the Kay Moor precinct were from England, Italy, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Most of the Italians worked as laborers in coke yards, a few were laborers in a mine, while one was a mason. However, it cannot be ascertained from the census whether these immigrants were working at the Kay Moor mine in 1910. Payrolls for Kay Moor were not found for 1910, but are available for 1915 and 1925. Such detailed matching of residents and mine employees will be needed to be done in the future if more material is found in the Low Moor records or when the 1920 census becomes available. However, it is known that many of Italian workers were single male boarders. The one Englishman served as a foreman in a mine; the Bulgarians and Turks were laborers in a coke yard. (See appendix 5 for nationalities of Kay Moor employees.)

Black Miners

When West Virginia coal mines were first opened the labor force consisted of native, white Americans who left their farms to enter the mines. Blacks were probably employed in West Virginia mines either as slaves or free men as early as the early nineteenth century in the Great Kanawha Valley. In the northern and midwestern mines black miners were few, and were usually hired only as strikebreakers. In the smokeless fields, however, the extensive use of black labor was an apparent distinguishing characteristic. Black labor was welcomed during the C&O construction and when the New River coalfields opened after 1873 the black populations in southern West Virginia increased dramatically. Many blacks stayed in the state after the railroad's completion to work in the mines. Almost 10,000 black miners labored in Fayette, Raleigh, Mercer, and McDowell counties in 1909, with almost half of these in McDowell County. Forty-three percent of all black miners in the United States in 1920 could be found in West Virginia. [46]

Most of the black miners were emigrants into West Virginia. A 1936 study of 600 black miners revealed that only 14 percent were born in West Virginia. Virginians numbered 47.8 percent; 11.8 percent were from North Carolina; 11.2 percent from Alabama; 4.5 percent from Tennessee; 3.3 percent from Georgia; 2.5 percent from South Carolina; and the remaining 4.9 percent from other southern and northern states. [47]

They came for many reasons. Often, economic conditions forced them to leave their homes. Bad farming conditions led many sharecroppers to look elsewhere for work, and they made much more money in the coal fields. The opportunity for better schooling for children and less oppression was another attraction of West Virginia, while young men were lured by the new experiences life in the coal mines offered. [48] Some problems did emerge because the blacks were so used to severe oppression that they were content with the conditions in the coal fields, and did not question their pay or question the coal operators' authority. They left behind lives of abuse in the southern states. [49]

Schooling for their children was a benefit of working in the southern West Virginia coal mines. The blacks took advantage of the opportunity and sent their children to the grade schools, high schools, and even colleges. Most of the enrollees at the Bluefield State Teachers College and West Virginia State College, both black schools, in 1936 were the children of miners. [50]

The blacks held both skilled and unskilled positions in the industry. The largest number of blacks were inside labor, being coal loaders, brakemen, trackmen, motormen, and machine men. Few worked outside labor, doing the surface work in preparing the coal for shipment or maintaining equipment. Even fewer were in positions of authority. The reasons for this included prejudice on the part of whites and the jealousy of other blacks. Black bosses faced white opposition, the distrust of their employers, and the anger of fellow blacks who expected special treatment. The blacks were considered to be good workers and "more easily handled." [51] This was considered to be true because the blacks were not responsive to the promises of labor. Coal operators were encouraged to hire blacks to stave off labor trouble. [52]

Blacks became the pawns in the labor struggles in several different ways. They were used against the immigrant and native whites in an effort to forestall unionism, and they were hired to replace striking miners. Their use as strikebreakers posed a difficult dilemma for the UMWA. Coal operators often used race issues as a way to undermine striking miners. [53]

The UMWA worked very strenuously to recruit black miners because it was the union's policy to unite all miners, regardless of color or nationality. The union also tried to achieve equality through the employment of black district organizers to help recruit black miners. The labor newspapers, including the United Mine Worker's Journal, wrote about black miners and never referred to them as "darkies" or "niggers." The union wanted equality for the blacks because separate wage scales for whites and blacks were too difficult to negotiate in a contract. Strikes were also harder to conduct if a significant portion of the miners were excluded. Blacks were assured equality as members of the rank and file, if not as officers. [54]

In spite of prejudice and the lack of any real opportunity for advancement within the mining hierarchy, there was little difference in the hours worked or the daily tonnage produced on the part of both white and black American workers. Thirty-five to forty hours was the average workweek, with two to three tons the average daily tonnage. The competition, on the other hand, came from the immigrant miners, who worked 40 to 50 hours each week and produced more tonnage per day. The discrepancy between workers occurred not between white and black Americans, but between American and immigrant workers. [55]

In spite of the influence of the UMWA, miners in company towns formed a collective sense of being. Life in a company town gave the coal operators control over the miners but it also provided an environment which fostered a different kind of culture, based not on ethnicity or race, but on occupation. A social hierarchy based on race did not develop. Instead, the miners developed a class behavior which focused on their common oppressor — the coal operator. Interracial solidarity was often the result. [56]

In the years after the turn of the century racial violence often occurred in the northern cities with the migration of thousands of southern blacks who soon competed for jobs. Race riots exploded in East St. Louis, Illinois; Newark; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Omaha; and Chicago. Many northern labor unions refused black members. In southern West Virginia, however, major racial problems did not emerge. Part of the reason lies in the fact that southern black sharecroppers moved essentially into another rural way of life, instead of into cities. [57]

Another reason for the lack of racial strife was the controlled economics of the company town which prevented competition. In northern cities blacks were in the lowest paid menial jobs, and violence often occurred when they tried to better themselves, which resulted in outright competition with whites. In the southern West Virginia coal towns, however, the controlled competition led to equal pay for equal work. Over the years whites no longer expected the blacks to receive lower wages or possess lower status. The status of both groups became more equal, accompanied by a decrease in racial tension. [58]

Additionally, until 1920 there was a shortage of labor in the West Virginia coalfields despite the influx of black workers. Thus there was no competition for jobs, nor did the blacks depress the job market. Because the work was piece-work, miners were paid for the work they did, and not on their race. [59] Another factor promoting racial harmony was the close proximity within which the miners worked. They worked side by side and faced the common dangers together.

Relations between the UMWA and black miners were, in the words of several authors, "excellent example[s] of intergroup relations." Mine operators, trying to keep out the union, told black workers that in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, few black miners were employed because of the union's presence. This was true due to the "white only" clauses in the constitutions of most labor unions from 1890-1925. But this was not true in the case of the UMWA, which was against discrimination. [60]

Discrimination did exist in the union, but there were still many reasons why blacks joined. The union offered opportunities for higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. Additionally, the union fought the Ku Klux Klan which attacked not only blacks but the foreign-born. In 1924 UMWA members were prohibited from joining the klan. [61]

According to Thomas Edward Posey, writing in 1948:

One of the major contributions of the United Mine Workers to West Virginia has been in the field of race relations. The Negro miner is intensely loyal to the United Mine Workers Union. Because of his membership, he has been given a sense of importance, of belonging, of being a real human being fighting shoulder to shoulder with his White brother in a common cause. In many of the United Mine Workers locals, Negroes are presidents, secretaries, and other officials even though the majority of the membership is white. This equalitarian treatment of the Negro by the organization causes the Negro community to consider the United Mine Workers as their most valuable ally in their fight for first-class citizenship. [62]

Black migration to the coalfields involved the entire family. There were few unmarried black men in the fields. Men sometimes worked for years to bring their families north into the coalfields, and the patriarchal nuclear family was sustained because the males remained the chief breadwinners. The men had to work to keep their company housing. Women were not allowed into the mines, and therefore could contribute economically to the family only through taking in boarders or doing laundry. [63] Coal company policies also strengthened the family group as married men, considered to be less mobile, were preferred in hiring. During slack times workers were laid off according to their marriage status, and not according to color. Married men also tended to be good union men because they viewed the coalfields as permanent homes, and during strikes the families were there for sustenance. [64]

The cohesive union spirit which eventually emerged among the West Virginia miners also included the blacks. Initially content with the relative lack of discrimination and higher wages, the blacks soon changed their minds after encountering the controlling practices of the coal operators. The social, political, and economic power held over them reminded the black miners of slavery, yet the slavery was now based on class, not color. [65]

The large number of black miners between 1890 and 1930 was due to the need for laborers and the use of blacks as a buffer against unionization. During and after the Great Depression, however, these factors were not present. The numbers of blacks did not increase, but actually decreased in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the principal causes for the decrease was continuing mine mechanization. [66]

The invention of mechanical loaders accounted for 20 percent of Southern Appalachian underground loading by 1940 and more than 50 percent of the loading by 1950. Mechanization in the mines resulted in the layoff of hand workers, despite seniority, while mechanization-created jobs were unaffected. Thus, a higher proportion of blacks lost their jobs. Black miners had a more difficult time finding work after being laid off than did white miners. [67]

The 1910 census revealed a large percentage of blacks living in the Kay Moor district; in 1923 it was 50 percent. Most of the parents emigrated from Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, while their children were born in West Virginia. Single male boarders were also mostly emigrants. (See appendix 4 for 1910 census.) Once again, it is impossible to tell from the census if the blacks who lived in the Kay Moor precinct were employed in the Kay Moor mine. It is not known by what means, both verbally and physically, the black workers arrived at Kay Moor, but some were possibly recruited.

George W. Rison, a black proprietor of a real estate and employment bureau in Danville, Virginia, sought black workers for the Low Moor Iron Company. However, surviving Low Moor records do not indicate whether these workers were employed at Kay Moor or in the mines at Low Moor. In March 1902 Rison promised he could supply 20 to 30 men per week. [68]

In January 1919 a problem arose at Kay Moor which revealed not only the attitude of management toward black workers, but the relationship between blacks and the UMWA. Kay Moor Superintendent E.M. Cabell explained the incident to manager of mines, J.W. Monteith, in Low Moor. His letter included a reference to earlier racial problems with serious consequences which had occurred at the mine. Evidently the local chapter of the union claimed to have an agreement with mine management wherein brakemen would be promoted to motormen, and that each man would be ranked according to seniority. The union also claimed that motormen who had been promoted to any number of other positions would then lose their rights on the motors. Cabell knew nothing of such agreements:

It was reported the other day that Fritz King who runs one of the main line motors, had quit. The representatives of the Union investigated and reported that the next man entitled to this motor was Mat Claytor, a colored boy, provided of course he was capable of running the motor. According to their report this would put Alex Hayes, one of our best Gathering Motormen, back to breaking. A Committee of the Union then notified the Mine Foreman and demanded that they put Mat Claytor on the motor, or at least give him a trial and if he was capable he would be entitled to the run. When this was reported tome [sic] I told the Mine Foreman that I did not know of any such agreement and could not render any decision unless authorized to do so by you, . . . but I persuaded them to go to work and a fair and just decision would be made. The men then agreed for the time being to let Alex Hayes run the main line motor, which he did, and is now doing.

The real trouble, however, is that the Union is split half and half between the whites and blacks until it has reached almost the point of a feud. There are so many rumors, such as the Boss Motorman is trying to Jim Crow the main line and that the Company will not allow the colored men to run the main line motor. It is also reported that Geo. Lavender said he would not weigh coal hauled on the main line by colored motormen. As these feuds between the whites and colored have resulted very seriously in the past, I think it quite a delicate situation to handle and I fear it might very materially effect our Company. I have used my best influence to keep down any trouble.

It now appears that Fritz King was only sick and had not quit and he is expected to commence work again Monday morning, and for the time being I hope the trouble with the Motormen is over. But this does not get away from the fact that we may have trouble at any time between the whites and colored people but I think this is rather a question for the union to decide and I hope that the Company can keep out of it, as some of our best men, both coal loaders and gathering motormen are colored men. [69]

It is impossible to tell without further documentation just how good racial relations were in Kay Moor over the years. Segregation did exist in community facilities, and occasionally in housing. Problems apparently arose even in the mine, centering on the union and promotion potential for black employees. Yet the closeness of the townspeople, because of the nature of mining work, probably helped achieve a higher degree of interaction, coexistence, and possibly acceptance not seen in the larger urban communities of the time. Former Kay Moor residents, both black and white, attest to the good relations. (See appendix 6 for numbers of men employed at Kay Moor No. 1, appendix 7 for 1915 Kay Moor employees and appendix 8 for 1925 payroll list.)

Mine Safety

West Virginia coal mines were the most dangerous in the United States. The highest death rate in the country's coal-producing states existed in West Virginia mines between 1890-1912. The state's mine-accident death rate was five times greater than in European countries. During World War I southern West Virginia coal miners had a higher death rate than the American Expeditionary Force. [70]

West Virginia's mine safety laws were rudimentary for decades because of the weak unions and the politically powerful operators. Government attitude toward safety in the industry was laissez faire at best. Victims of accidents were routinely blamed for their injuries; carelessness and inexperience being to blame. Additional hazardous conditions existed because many immigrant miners did not understand English. [71]

A miner in the fields for any length of time usually suffered several serious injuries. The nature of the work contributed to the high accident rate. Strict supervision was difficult or inadequate, and there was the "miner's freedom." Miners themselves took unnecessary chances in their haste to finish their work. Most mine operations forbid the deliberate igniting or flashing of accumulated gases in the mine rooms. Sometimes miners skipped the step of undercutting the coal face before blasting. This "shooting off the solid" was dangerous because it weakened the roof and created heavy accumulations of coal dust. [72]

The principal bituminous coal mine hazard was falls of roof and coal, second was danger associated with underground transportation, and explosions were third. The mine explosions received much attention because of the numbers of men involved, but deaths of this nature were only 12 percent of the total in 1923. [73]

Slate falls caused the most accidents. Improper roof supports, roofs weakened by shooting off the solid, and geologically imperfect roofs caused tons of rock and debris to fall. The weight of the slate and coal which came crashing down would sometimes flatten a man into the ground. Survivors of roof falls often suffered crushed spines or mutilated limbs which had to be amputated. Occasionally miners would get caught in their own blasts. Unreliable fuses were used before the introduction of electric detonators. Fuses would sometimes smolder instead of igniting the powder inside the tamped hole. When the miner went to check the fuse, thinking it had gone out, hundreds of pounds of coal would be blasted into his direction. Coal dust blown into a miner's eyes could cause blindness. The near-dark conditions in mines also contributed to accidents. A miner's lamp lit only the area directly in front of him. He might not see or hear an approaching coal car and be crushed between a coal car and some timbering. Safety conditions worsened, not improved, after electricity was introduced into the mines. Electrocutions from live wires hanging from the mine roofs caused shocks or death. [74]

Large losses of life occurred in explosions or mine fires. In the 1880s it was discovered that coal dust, when stirred up by constant motion during the mining process, could be highly volatile when mixed with methane gas. The problem of dangerous coal dust in dry, non-gaseous mines, which drift mines, including Kay Moor, tended to be, was ignored for many years because most mines in southern West Virginia were usually small operations which generated little coal dust. [75]

The West Virginia state legislature created the office of mine inspector in 1883 and required annual reports on the condition of each mine and on the causes of all incidents. However, the mine inspector had no power to prosecute mine operators who operated unsafe mines and it was impossible for the inspector to report on every mine in West Virginia. [76]

As the size of mining operations increased and mechanization was introduced the frequency of major mine disasters increased. After the May 6, 1900, explosion at the Red Ash mine in Fayette County the state legislature passed a requirement that gaseous mines have a fire boss on duty to inspect the mine for gas before every shift. Mine bosses were also required to keep watch over the mining operations. This legislation ignored the problem of dry coal dust, however, and explosions kept occurring in the New River field. [77]

Mine safety laws were slow in coming, but they were passed during the Progressive Era. A mining commission appointed in 1906 was wracked with recriminations on the part of both operator and miner representatives. The commission's majority report sought stronger safety laws, but still placed blame for major disasters on the backs of 78 inexperienced miners. [78] In 1907 the state legislature did pass comprehensive laws which spelled out responsibilities for safety conditions in the mines. A state department of mines was established and the new mining code specified standards for ventilation, the watering down of mines to settle coal dust, forbade the use of steam locomotives inside mines and set age 14 as minimum age for working boys. The chef of the department of mines had the authority to close mines found violating the code. More legislation did not follow until 1915, when several safety features were passed. However, the state did nothing, either in 1907 or 1915, to curb or control the dangerous practice of solid-shooting. The state mine inspector, John Laing, took it upon himself to require the use of competent shot-firers. He permitted only approved explosives in unwatered and dusty mines, and he required examinations for mine foremen and fire bosses. [79]

Many coal operators in West Virginia began to agitate for federal mine safety laws so they would not be hampered by state laws which would place them at a disadvantage of operators in other states not possessing the same legislation. Their efforts helped establish the United States Department of Mines in 1910. [80] Even so, mine inspectors, those responsible for safety in the mines, were often unqualified as they were chosen through patronage systems. [81]

Coal companies were usually free from prosecution. Up until 1904 there were no safety violation prosecutions in the state, and none after 1912. In 1910, 159 prosecutions out of 163 were against individual miners. Prosecutions against companies were often blocked by the coal operators, who controlled the courts. District inspectors were sometimes removed from office through political means, often before they could prosecute a mining violation case. [82] (See appendix 9 for a sample mine inspection report of Kay Moor.)

An injured miner and his family usually suffered great hardship. Funds contributed by the community or beneficial societies did not last long; neither did the lump sum payments offered by some coal companies. Disabled miners or mining widows were usually evicted from company housing; families lived as best they could. By 1923 almost all of the bituminous states had some form of workmen's compensation insurance, with Ohio and West Virginia possessing monopolistic state insurance. [83]

Kay Moor management did carry insurance for its miners. In 1915 General Manager John B. Guernsey complained to Superintendent C.C. Cooke about how sloppy the insurance claims were being filled out. "This matter of Insurance Claims is a serious one. Kaymoor is giving us more trouble than any other operation: some of the claims are ridiculous, and others are very suspicious. It looks as if you were signing them without due regard to the justice of the claim." [84] Cooke responded saying he and the company doctor, a Dr. Skaggs, would fill out the insurance forms for the claimants because "They cannot do it. Some of these fellows are ignorant and cannot fill out the claimants report on the insurance blank." Cooke remarked, "We are not dealing with those fellows individually but collectively, and collectively I mean the Unions." [85]

Compensation for injury or death in the coal mines was not available through the UMWA until 1946. In that year, John L. Lewis negotiated a contract with operators which included the establishment of the Welfare and Retirement Fund. The federal government paid $.05 into the fund for every ton of coal mined. Hospitals were soon built throughout the coalfields to care for injured miners. Pneumoconiosis was identified as a disease associated with mining in 1942, but it was not until 1970 that West Virginia passed "black lung" legislation, with benefits to victims. [86]

Miners in Kay Moor No. 1 experienced their share of injuries and deaths. The early West Virginia coal mining annual reports described the accidents, provided the victim's names, and placed responsibility usually square on the miner's shoulders. Local newspapers also carried news of deaths in the mine. (See appendix 10 for a partial list of Kay Moor mining fatalities.)

Whenever a miner was killed on the job co-workers usually left the mine for the day. Kay Moor Superintendent Edward M. Cabell reported in January 1919 of an idle day at the mine due to the death of Ed Hale, the "very best Goodman Mining Machine operator," a victim of influenza. In April 1919 Cabell reported: "Some of our entrymen were off on account of the death of Mr. Mason, father of the Mason boys who are working some on the entry. He lived at Gatewood, consequently his death did not affect the Mines to a great extent as they only lay off in a body when someone dies on the job." [87]

Kay Moor's management disliked the practice of closing the mine for a day on account of a death. In January 1919 Superintendent Edward M. Cabell responded to Manager J.W. Monteith's thoughts on the subject:

I note that you say we expect to pay our due respects to the dead and expect men who have family ties and in any way connected with the deceased to attend the funeral but in no way will you consider shutting the Mine down for burials. I have entered into no discussions with the Miners in regard to this, only in several cases I have persuaded them to work and stated that for financial reasons we could not afford to close down our plant unless absolutely necessary to do so. I hope we will have no more trouble from a burial of one of their number. I do not know of any way to prevent them from doing so. Practically all your miners live at the top of the hill and there is where we have most of our trouble in controlling the men. [88]

Superstitions arose concerning aspects of coal mining, especially focusing on predicting disasters. Fortunately Kay Moor did not experience a tragedy on the scale of near-by Monongah in McDowell County or even Red Ash Mine or Rush Run Mine within the New River Gorge. [89] While explosions remained in the forefront of West Virginia mine safety, most of the casualties were caused by other means.

The New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal and Coke Company introduced measures to prevent accidents after their take-over of the Kay Moor mines in 1925. Rescue and First Aid teams were formed and competed against other company teams in contests. Within a year there were three safety teams at Kay Moor No. 1 and one at Kay Moor No. 2. [90]

Mining Skills

"A miner is his own boss." This homily was believed by the miners themselves and was shown through their behavior. According to Donald Miller and Richard Sharpless, "They showed it by their independence, their attitude toward authority, and their resistance to anyone who attempted to bring them under close supervision and control. They practiced a kind of 'miner's freedom' in a work environment different from that of other industrial laborers." [91]

The nature of work in a coal mine dictated that the miner was an isolated piece worker who rarely saw the boss more than once a day. The coal miner was free to do as he pleased and usually resented any effort to supervise or regulate his work. Contrary to the belief that mining required little more than strength and average intelligence, a miner's judgment was as important as his brawn. He decided everything, including how to undercut the face, the amount of powder to use, how to pace himself in loading the car, and other decisions. These decisions often affected his life and those of his fellow workers. Additionally, the miner's skill affected how much coal was wasted. [92]

In the room and pillar system of mining, prevalent before World War I and in the 1920s, two-man teams of miners worked in the rooms off of a main corridor. Each man decided how long he wanted to work since he was paid for each ton he loaded. Each miner also supplied his own tools for blasting, digging, and loading. Most miners worked as contract miners, who agreed to produce a ton of coal at a set price. The skilled miners also considered other factors in accepting a mining position: quality of life in the company town, the amount of travel time from home to the mine entrance, the mine's safety record, the pattern of room assignment or who would be his assigned partner. [93] Men who did not like the working conditions could always pack up and leave; their skills were useful elsewhere.

When men or boys first started in the mines they were considered "greenhorns" who had to learn the trade from the more experienced miners. Careful consideration had to be given to a miner's partner, or "buddy." Experienced miners usually preferred to train their own sons, friends or relatives, and not immigrants fresh from Europe who understood no English. Greenhorns usually began with day labor before being placed underground. [94]

Typically, a miner began work around 6:00 A.M. He would get his sharpened tools, which he provided himself, from the nearby blacksmith shop (the cost of this service was deducted from a miner's pay), and would ride or walk to his "room" with his picks, shovels, auger, tamping bar, fuses, and black powder. A small lard oil lamp attached to his hat provided light. [95]

With his buddy the miner began making an undercut about 24 feet long and 6 feet deep along the bottom of the horizontal coal seam. To do this the miner had to lie on his side and use a pick. Holes were then drilled along the top of the seam. The miner placed black powder and fuses into the holes, tamped the loads with dirt, and then fired the fuses. After the blast the two miners pushed empty mine cars on rails into the room and began breaking up the coal and loading it. When they finished loading they pushed the car to a central corridor where a mule driver or a locomotive operator would pick it up and haul it to the mine mouth. In order to get credit for each coal car loaded the miner placed a brass check with his payroll number onto the car. After the car was dumped of its load the "check man" removed the brass check and gave credit to the miner. [96]

The miner's job consisted of more than just picking and shoveling, however. He also had to position timber props to guard against roof collapses in the newly opened section of a room, and he extended the rails for the coal cars. After lunch the entire process would start over. The miner would end the day around 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. to make his way home. [97] A miner at Kay Moor thus possessed certain skills: knowing how to undercut the coal face, drill shotholes, set and fire explosives, prop the roof with timber, lay coal car track and how to efficiently load a coal car. The miners also learned how to handle the air- and electric-powered coal cuffing and loading machines. [98]

Historian Keith Dix provided a general description of how the mining process occurred, and this description fits the operation at Kay Moor:

. . . the mining process involves the following general procedure:

removal of coal from the working face, loading of the coal into cars which are pushed from the face to the room entrance, a gathering of the loaded cars by mule or locomotive, and transferring the coal to the outside. The quantity of coal mined (and the earnings of the miner) depended on many factors, such as the width of the room, thickness of the seam, presence of impurities in the coal, suitability of the roof or "top," availability and efficiency of machinery, availability of cars, and, of course, the skill and speed of the miner. [99]

Before World War I miners celebrated several holidays — New Year's Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Other days were taken unofficially, including May Day and Labor Day. Ethnic and religious holidays were usually observed by specific groups of miners.

The coal miner took pride in his work — once a miner, always a miner. Historian David Alan Corbin wrote: "In an industrial nation dependent upon the energy resource he produced, the coal miner knew he was essential to the nation and that he was necessary for the common good." [100] The skills and mobility possessed by the highly-individualistic miners reflected the pride of craftsmen. [101]


Prior to 1900 miners were paid according to different types of production: per bushel, per day, per ton run-of-mine (unscreened), or per ton screened. Pay based on screened coal was a source of contention because screen meshes could be easily changed. After 1900 wage agreements and legislation eliminated the use of screens. By 1920 run-of-mine per ton was the basis upon which most wages were paid. [102] By January 1919 at Kay Moor pick and machine miners were paid by the ton or "yardage rate." (For listings of the 1902 and 1919 pay scales, see appendices 11 and 12.)

There was considerable division of labor within a coal mining operation. Work inside the mine was classified into 22 categories, including track layers and slate loaders. Work outside the mine included 17 types of "daymen," while the coke oven work required 9 types of workers. [103] However, the wage system was structured on only two bases: miners and laborers. Underground miners were paid by the ton of coal or yardage removed. Laborers, whether inside or outside the mine, were paid a daily rate. [104]

Many deductions were taken from a miner's pay before he even received his wages. The "check-off" system included deductions for rent, cost of home heating coal, blacksmithing charges, burial fund, hospital and doctor charges, and insurance. [105]

World War I

America's entry into World War I affected the Kay Moor mines in several ways. In 1918 the mines produced 160,000 tons of coal and manufactured 75,000 tons of coke. This production was about 10 percent less than usual because of war conditions and the loss of workers to the armed forces. The Kay Moor mines sent 35 men into the army and navy. An additional reason for the production slump was the onset of disease; the renowned 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. [106]

During a draft call in June 1917, 75 men between the ages of 21 and 31 enlisted from the Kay Moor district — 33 white, 33 black, and 9 aliens. [107] Further draft calls for black and white soldiers took more from Kay Moor in June 1918. [108]

Low Moor managers were determined not to forget about their men in uniform. On at least one Christmas, Manager of Mines J.W. Monteith obtained the names of all Low Moor workers who were in the service and sent them Christmas packages. One recruit, Herbert Pennington, gave thanks from Camp Greene in Charlotte, North Carolina: "Kind sirs. I wish to thank you for the box you sent me for Xmas it was real nice and the Cake was fine." [109]

J.W. Monteith registered for military service in September 1918 in Covington. He asked the registrar how to claim deferred classification for Low Moor employees on industrial grounds. Affidavits on all claims would have to be made and signed by Frank Lyman in New York. The registrar thought this procedure would carry more weight with the "Board." In explaining this to Low Moor General Manager F. U. Humbert, Monteith added:

He [the registrar] also stated that this plan was followed out in the last draft by the President of the N & W Railroad, and in practically every case where the President signed, the man was put in a deferred class.

I am passing this information on to you, thinking perhaps you would like to have these copies made so Mr. Lyman could sign them while he is down this week." [110]

It is not known whether J.W. Monteith took advantage of the apparently available deferment after he registered for the service, or if the copies Frank Lyman supposedly signed were for another employee.


The history of industrial conflict in West Virginia coal mining continued to support a negative labor image in the state in the late twentieth century. In 1920 the industry employed 102,950 miners and 28.2 percent of the state's total labor force. For decades violent wars were fought, with the operators being the winners until 1933 when the West Virginia coalfields were finally organized. The fundamental contradiction fueling these wars was simple: the miners' need for a union was based on the desire for economic survival and humane treatment, while the coal operators fought against the union because its presence meant higher costs, resulting in the loss of a competitive edge over coal producers in other states. [111]

The United Mine Workers of America was organized in 1890 as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor. Within eight years it had obtained union recognition with a standard wage and dues check-off basis with coal companies in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. These companies organized as the "Central Competitive Field" in the belief that the new coalfields in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky would be unionized. Wages and coal prices would then be stable throughout the industry. Labor costs averaged 70 percent of the cost of a ton of coal at this time; thus, coal operators who could keep their mines union free possessed a substantial advantage. It was for this reason that West Virginia coal operators subsequently banded together to keep their state free of the UMWA. Temporary inroads were made in 1902, 1906, and during the World War I, but in general, the union failed to make gains. Correspondingly, West Virginia's share of the national coal output grew from 10 percent in 1900 to 26.2 percent in 1930. [112]

West Virginia coal mines stayed largely unorganized through more than 20 years by effort by the UMWA, The union failed to make any progress among probably the most exploited and oppressed coal workers in the United States. [113]

Harry M. Caudill remarked:

Recruiters for the United Mine Workers of America and the International Workers of the World began to seek members in the coalfield before 1917, and continued their efforts for six or seven years. Their arguments were logical and persuasive, but they were premature. The miners were riding the crest of full employment and high wages. They thought of themselves as prosperous, and most of them simply ignored the organizers' promises of even better days to come under union leadership. A good many thousand laborers joined the unions, but they did so more in quest of social fellowship than out of conviction that they were enlisting in a just cause. [114]

The people of the southern West Virginia coalfields in the 1890s were of nonunion and nonmining backgrounds — the native mountaineers and southern blacks and European immigrants. They were existence-oriented. [115] They seemed to have cared or planned little for making the coalfields a permanent, decent place to live. The native miners were farmers — many of them kept their farms and worked them during slack runs or strikes. These farmers showed little interest in the union. The blacks saw little need for the union, for they had escaped the South for an improved economic life, and were content with the coal mining conditions, where money seemed easy and discrimination was minimal. [116]

These people were difficult to unionize, and generally accepted the company's view and stayed away from the union. The southern and eastern European immigrant miners did not have the political and economic experience or solidarity held by the British miners before them who had founded union activity. Prejudice and racism divided the state's miners — there was no sense of mutual responsibility. [117]

The UMWA organizers themselves did not always offer inspiration, for in some instances they sold out to the companies. [118] Yet most UMWA members remained loyal and worked for the cause in southern West Virginia. Since its founding, however, the UMWA's two major issues were higher wages and shorter hours. These issues were advocated in southern West Virginia, but were not issues of concern to the coal miners. [119]

However, "It was this overall presence, power, and supervision of the company that really angered the miners and made other issues more important than wage rates and wage increases," wrote David Alan Corbin. [120] Wage increases were not a key issue in any major strikes in southern West Virginia. Miners' demands were, in order of importance: 1. recognition of the union; 2. abolition of the mine-guard system; 3. reform in the docking system; 4. a checkweighman representing, and paid by, the miners; 5. trade with any store they pleased; 6. cash wages; and finally, 7. an increase in pay. These demands struck at the core of the company town system and that basic changes in the structure of life and work was needed. [121]

The southern West Virginia miners failed to participate in the UMWA strikes and their refusal to join the miners' union reveals their individualism and the emergence of a working class whose needs and goals were widely different from the UMWA and its policies. Unable to persuade West Virginia miners from joining a nationwide coal strike in 1894, the UMWA then tried, unsuccessfully, to hold a national boycott against West Virginia coal, including trying to persuade the U.S. Navy from using it. [122]

In 1901 the UMWA held a major organizing drive in southern West Virginia. The union spent thousands of dollars and sent organizers into the state. But the miners were unresponsive. They knew the consequences: as fast as organization occurred the companies would dismiss miners and evict them from their homes. Organizers themselves were threatened, beaten, and jailed. Efforts to prosecute the coal companies for the injustices failed, as the courts and local law officers were control led by the coal operators. [123]

These failures to organize may be the reason UMWA president John Mitchell opposed having West Virginia enter the 1902 Pennsylvania anthracite strike. However, delegates to the 1902 UMWA convention crossed Mitchell and favored a sympathetic strike. They feared West Virginia coal would be sent east, an action which would break the anthracite strike and allow the West Virginia operators to enter the anthracite markets. They ordered the West Virginia miners to stop working. The anthracite coal strike of 1902 was a turning point because public opinion for the first time appeared to support the union's side in a major labor disagreement. Equally significant, federal intervention, in the form of an Anthracite Strike Commission, agreed with the UMWA's position on several items in dispute. However, whatever victory was achieved in the Pennsylvania fields, the allied coal strike in the unorganized bituminous West Virginia fields was a failure, despite the fact that 10 percent of all miners involved with the strike were West Virginia miners (20,000 of estimated 200,000). The strike began in early June and despite the UMWA's priority work in Pennsylvania, lasted until late November or December. Even though the West Virginia miners held on as long as the Pennsylvania miners did, no outside help came their way from the union, and the organizing efforts were crushed. The UMWA in the state was ill-prepared and the strike was soon considered to be a mistake. [124]

An industry newspaper, the Black Diamond, remarked when the strike started in June:

It is about as risky to predict subsequent developments as to forecast an election. The job might be easier had the United Mine Workers maintained a good organization here for some length of time, for then one could get something definite to figure on. The most of the strength they possess is of recent growth, due to persistent missionary work, which is being kept up night and day. "Mother" Jones has been speaking in the mining villages along the Norfolk & Western railroad for two months, with considerable success. [125]

Miners in the New River field responded to the strike call. Every mine in the New River district was idle, as well as most of the Kanawha mines. [126] When the strike was first called the Black Diamond reported on conditions in the southern West Virginia fields and also shed light on the reactions of immigrant and black miners to the strike:

The strike has been peaceably conducted and is regarded as a season for feasting and merry-making by the Hungarian miners, whose decision to join the strikers was unlooked for. They are drinking and carousing and think every day a holiday.

After their money gives out they will be hard to control and they are generally sensible enough to know they only get their money by work and not idleness. The negroes are similarly celebrating, so there are several things going to show that the men first of all want a rest after working for years without a break, and they are taking this chance to secure advantages in wages, hour and weighing regulations. The strike leaders want first and last to organize West Virginia and force the operators to recognize the United Mine Workers and sign a yearly scale. The result depends on the length of the struggle and it does not seem the men care to stay out long. Arms are being supplied to the operators in case importations of men are necessary. [127]

The response was violent — miners were discharged, evicted from their homes, or blacklisted. Operators obtained court injunctions against UMWA officials, organizers, and striking miners. Men disappeared and were never heard from again. [128]

Many miners remained at work, and the industry was not seriously crippled. By July many men in the Pocahontas field had returned to work, while miners in the Kanawha field were generally still out. In the New River region the situation was at a "standstill" and it was evident that New River would be the "battlefield in the present struggle." [129] The coal operators conceded nothing, and only in Kanawha County was a short-lived contract secured. [130] According to David Alan Corbin, "Despite their oppression and exploitation, the miners had no desire to join the union that the UMWA offered. Between 1897 and 1910 the UMWA had spent nearly a million dollars on organizing southern West Virginia, sent in scores of organizers, and conducted various types of boycotts; . . . Yet more miners remained outside of the union, and those who did belong to the UMWA were 'grudgingly paying their dues' and only 'occasionally attending a meeting.'" [131]

The 1902 strike in West Virginia affected the operations at Kay Moor in several ways. The mines at both Kay Moor and nearby Brown (Nuttalburg) were locked up. The Low Moor managers supported the lead of Justus Collins, of Collins Collieries at Glen Jean, West Virginia, and William Nelson Page of the Gauley Mountain Coal Company at Ansted, West Virginia. They adopted a militant resistance posture and requested a court injunction against the strikers, which was granted. The atmosphere for violence was further heightened with the hiring of Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency "guards." These men were hired to protect mine property and to conduct espionage to identify agitators or union men. Kay Moor's management also applied for a court order to evict strikers from company housing. [132]

The Kay Moor management's decision to hire detective guards was in line with events occurring in the rest of the state during the strike. Many other coal owners responded to the unionization attempts by hiring mine guards to protect themselves. Even though the state's miners had generally not responded to the UMWA activities, the operators saw the UMWA as not only threatening the owners' controls over the workers, but as disrupting business through the use of boycotts. The coal operators decided to fight "force with force" and brought in Baldwin-Felts detectives. By 1910 these men could be found in almost every company town in southern West Virginia. Their goal was to protect the operators, but they did so by violent means. [133]

National union organizers were harassed by Baldwin-Felts guards from the time they boarded trains for West Virginia. By 1912 the state was not considered safe for an organizer. Not only did the guards interfere with unionization efforts, but they became involved with the everyday affairs in the company town. They drove out of town anyone suspected of being too independent, prohibited the assembly of more than three miners at any one time, and maimed, beat, and murdered union miners. The detectives were nationally known for their brutality, and they were hated. [134] In July 1914 miners at Kay Moor No. 2 quit work because the company hired one Howard Wilson. According to a local newspaper, "He is objectionable to the miners because he has been employed as a guard at Loop creek mines and is charged with being a member of the Baldwin force of detectives. About 50 miners quit." [135]

David Alan Corbin argued that the very effectiveness of the Baldwin-Felts guards' brutality encouraged class hostility among the coal miners and made them see the need for collective security and collective action. The miners also began to question the political system which tolerated the guards and provided them with authority. Without any access to outside UMWA organizers, the coal miners now started uprisings on their own. The union spirit which evolved in southern West Virginia thus reflected the character and values of the miners themselves, and not the international union. [136]

Labor problems at Kay Moor continued into the next year, 1903. A strike broke out in the New River fields in May. [137] This strike was considered to be a continuation of the previous year's conflict, and confined to a UMWA attempt to gain strength in New River. Production stood at two-thirds of normal in the field at this time. The Black Diamond remarked: "It has been a bitter and long fight on both sides and extremely costly to both. [138] By July the labor activity was being characterized as "a strike on paper at least, if not in actual reality." [139]

Ed D. Wickes believed the "trouble" at the mine was over in April 1903, even though he admitted in a letter to General Manager E.C. Means that "we would be obliged to watch carefully the men we took on so as to guard against our place being organized." Wickes also overhead that some kind of meetings were being held on May 15. [140]

A strike call for the New River and Loup Creek districts went out from the union district president Duncan Kennedy and national president John Mitchell for May 18, 1903. [141] An immediate effect at Kay Moor was not noticed. On May 20 Ed Wickes wrote, "We have noticed no change in our force which could be charged to the Strike Order." The last Baldwin man left and Wickes asked E.C. Means for an "armed man" from Low Moor to serve as a night watchman. [142]

Kay Moor management also recruited labor from Tennessee and Kentucky, following a policy of hiring more labor while keeping low the number of union men. Ed Wickes sent a "2000 mile ticket" to a man in Kentucky who probably would bring four or five men with him. Men also came in from other mines. [143]

Kay Moor's managers kept open the lines of communication with the UMWA. Ed Wickes not only met with the UMWA's vice-president, Thomas L. Lewis, but with Duncan Kennedy, president of the UMWA Loup Creek and New River District. Wickes hoped to obtain union men for work in the mine without recognizing the union itself. He wrote E.C. Means:

I believe we can protect ourselves by putting ourselves in such a position with the Union that they will let us alone and furnish us a few good men, but we should still continue to get non union men when we found good miners of this class and see that the Union don't meddle with them . . . . Today the Union is fighting Kay Moor harder than ever before. If we can enforce the rule of non interference on the part of Union men with non union and make Lewis understand that we intend to live up to this rule absolutely even to the extent of verbal persuasion we wont have trouble and the Union wont hurt us. [144]

Disagreements did occur between Kay Moor's management and other New River coal operators over their negotiations with the UMWA about acquiring labor. Ed Wickes understood that the operators would "not talk to any of the Union men any more. They will look on our recognition of the Union in anything but a friendly light." [145]

The strike continued as the summer progressed. In mid-June Wickes reported to Means: "The Union have a lot of new agitators here now." [146] On June 16 two "agitators" were arrested on Kay Moor property by a Baldwin detective who found them before Kay Moor's hired constable did. In speaking with them away from the officers, Ed Wickes told them Kay Moor management had "done enough for them in the matter of concessions." Wickes also told them he had orders to run them off the property and that he could not prevent their arrest. Wickes was adamant about the union men not interfering with the non-union men at the mine. [147]

The 1903 strike ended in July. Even though the strike was in response to a general West Virginia call, the New River mines were the only ones which closed. Only 300 mines were affected, and production was not significantly disrupted. The strike cost both sides an estimated $500,000 in addition to money lost in wages and business. The operators won a complete victory and did not recognize the union. The Black Diamond commented on the strike's conditions and the feelings of relief which followed its end:

Rioting and bloodshed, with fully a dozen deaths recorded, injunctions, various sorts of legal contests, the presence for awhile of the state militia, and private company detectives armed to the teeth and doing guard duty, and a host of other things entered into the stubborn thirteen months' struggle. Since last fall it has been a losing game with the miners, and they steadily drifted to other fields for employment or went back to their old jobs.

A general feeling of satisfaction followed the announcement that the strike was at an end, not because of its magnitude, for it ceased to be important in that respect a long time ago, but because of the unsettled conditions it produced. There was always a feeling of anxiety that something was going to happen there that would mean a few deaths, for desperate men were involved. [148]

Despite Low Moor management's talks with the union, it closed ranks with other area operators when it joined the New River Operators Association in 1906. This organization had two goals: to prevent the UMWA's entrance into the New River field, and to increase the supply of C&O coal railroad cars to the mines. [149]

Trouble arose again in 1906 with the rumors of more strikes. In March miners wanting to avoid a strike situation left the mine. Low Moor managers encouraged loyal company men to keep at work and to help in getting "agitators" out of the community. Baldwin-Felts detectives in Kay Moor kept agitators out and management hoped to avoid trouble. The mines were very short of men in April 1906 because many miners left to tend to their farms. As miners returned to the mine they seemed to want to work and not go on strike. Ed Wickes hoped that Kay Moor's production would continue to improve over the previous year if the union could be kept down and the men prevented from leaving for other fields. [150]

Men continued to return to work; by October new houses were built to accommodate them. Edward M. Cabell reported: "We are getting in men daily and all of our desirable and some of the undesirable houses are filled. We finished one of the new houses and a party is moving in to-day, and we will finish the other two as soon as we can get the lumber." [151]

Although union organizers had spent $1 million in West Virginia by 1911, the state was described as "A dagger in the heart of the United Mine Workers of America." West Virginia non-union coal was reaching docks at Lake Michigan at $1.70 and $1.80 f.o.b. and the state's output was increasing. The Central Competitive Field operators and miners believed the West Virginia competition prohibitive, and vowed to unionize West Virginia to wipe out cheap coal. [152]

The West Virginia coal operators on Paint Creek, Kanawha County, responded with a vengeance, refusing to renew their contracts with the union. The miners walked out of the mines on April 1, 1912, and were soon joined by miners at Cabin Creek, The worst mine war in West Virginia history followed, lasting until April 1913. [153] The violence of this struggle did not reach Kay Moor because Low Moor management kept informed of every UMWA move and thwarted every unionization attempt. [154] No further major labor disturbances occurred at Kay Moor between this time and the start of World War I.

The war effort precipitated more demand for coal and coke. For the UMWA, the timing of high demand and a shortage of labor worked to their benefit. Efforts to organize West Virginia became more effective, even if these gains were short-lived. In April 1915 the New River Operators Association agreed to a union contract with the UMWA's District No. 29. The United Mine Workers' Journal remarked on the signing:

The organized miners of the New River district of West Virginia have ratified the proposed agreement which was referred to them. Under this agreement it is up to the miners themselves to establish a hundred per cent organization; this without one day's strike, and consider that little over a year ago any man who suggested that organization might be advantageous to the miners risked his life, and was certain to be hounded out of the district. [155]

Major increases occurred in union strength during the war years. A change in the union structure helped in the successful drive for members. In 1916 the entire state was organized under district 17. This action promoted internal harmony and consolidated organizing strength. According to Frank Keeney, president of district 17, membership in the UMWA rose from 7,000 to 17,000 between January 1, 1917, and June 4, 1918. [156] UMWA organization frequently changed, however, and by 1919, district 29 was reestablished and represented the New River and Winding Gulf fields. District 17 represented the rest of the state.

Kay Moor's managers delayed joining into a union contract by shutting down the mines at Kay Moor for repairs. The mine machinery and coke ovens needed repairs, and both mines closed in April 1915. Two company stores were closed and the remaining two were kept open with only one man in charge. The total labor cost at Kay Moor No. 1 was expected to be $220 per month for three positions to be kept: monitor runner, stable man, and power house man, plus the superintendent's salary of $250. All of the miners were allowed company housing with free rent if they stayed, and were encouraged to work in other mines during the shut down. The shut down was also viewed as an opportunity to get rid of "certain undesirables." Expectations were that the mines would reopen in August. [157] Evidently the coke ovens stayed closed longer than expected, for a local newspaper reported in October: "The Kaymoor ovens, which have been idle for more than a year, are being repaired and will be fired up within a few weeks. The product will go to the Lowmoor funrnaces [sic]" [158]

On May 30, 1916, Low Moor managers signed a contract with the UMWA's District No. 29, Local No. 2839. The 1915 wage scale was agreed to, as well as a voluntary checkoff system wherein Low Moor deducted union dues for the union men. During the war years both Kay Moor coal and Low Moor iron were in high demand. In November 1917 the UMWA and New River Operators Association added a clause to their contract stating no strikes, stoppages, or lockouts would occur for the duration of the contract. [159]

In December 1918 a strike occurred at New River Company and Brown Coal Company mines close to Kay Moor. The Low Moor management consulted with Thomas L. Lewis, secretary of the operators association, in an effort to keep Kay Moor out of the strike. Lewis told the operators to appeal to the U.S. Fuel Administration for a reprieve from the higher wage demands, and his strategy proved to be correct. A strike at Kay Moor No. 1 was averted in March 1919, when Low Moor management followed the U.S. Fuel Administration's decision that the UMWA's demands for higher wages broke the "Washington Wage Agreement" approved by the government. But this action delayed a strike only for a few months. [160]

On November 1, 1919, the UMWA, now under John L. Lewis' leadership, called a nationwide strike. [161] Kay Moor's management was not sure how its miners would react to the strike call, but it seemed the miners had no grievance with the company and thus had no just cause to strike. A wage agreement had just been made on September 1, 1919, and any violation of that agreement would mean that union men could not be relied upon to fulfill agreements. F.U. Humbert, general manager in Low Moor, believed that company policy called for providing employees with a "square deal" and he wanted to deal with the men fairly, whether individually or collectively. He added, however, that company "faith in the union employees must necessarily be shattered if the present agreement is violated." [162]

E.M. Cabell informed Humbert that the employees, indeed, had no grievances with the company, "save the general dissatisfaction over the new agreement which went into effect September 1st," but "Kay Moor No. 1 is intensely union and I do not believe any of the men will work unless the strike order is recalled." [163] Cabell then detailed the union's position, which bears repeating in full because it describes the union's past and present regard for the Low Moor Iron Company:

George W. Lavender, the spokesman of the miners claims that in calling a strike into effect midnight, October 31st, that the miners are not violating the agreement. The way he construes Section 62 of the agreement between the New River coal operators and the United Mine Workers of America, District 29, that this agreement was killed when the operators and miners of the competitive fields adjourned without negotiating an agreement. He also claims that as far as his Local is concerned, that they will try to keep good faith with the Low Moor Iron Company, that since the signing of this agreement September 1st and the dissatisfaction and unrest which was created at the mines of the Low Moor Iron Company thay [sic] kept at work with almost a record work from one day to a month and a half on account of the dissatisfaction. . . .

He also said that Kay Moor Mine No. 1 had the best record for operation of any mine in the United States. On account of labor trouble this mine had only been idle two days and the cause of the mine being idle then was entirely the fault of the Company, that the Superintendent had made an agreement outside of the contract and although they were in the right and the Company in the wrong, they went back to work. He then said that he hoped there still be some way by which an agreement could be reached in order that they could continue at work, for the miners stood ready at times to negotiate for an honorable settlement just to both sides, but said the operators of the central competitive fields had refused to do so.

Mr. Lavender spoke very nicely of the Low Moor Iron Company and its officials and of how pleasant their relations had been with them. [164]

Kay Moor miners participated in the strike. [165] F.U. Humbert and E.M. Cabell discussed their options, and agreed that if an agreement was not soon in coming, that they would favor declaring an open shop provided other operators do likewise, and if federal protection was provided. Cabell was not in favor of running an open shop using only hired private guards for protection. According to Cabell, "This has been tried at Kay Moor in the past and in my opinion, was very unsatisfactory." [166]

During this strike the UMWA planned a special assault on nonunion fields in Logan and Mingo counties, located south and west of Fayette County. Operators there hired deputies and mine guards, with the subsequent consequences of atrocities against miners and their families. Five thousand miners gathered to "march on Logan" to get Don Chapin, the notorious sheriff of Logan County, and were dissuaded, not by the threat of facing federal troops and charges of treason, but by Frank Keeney, president of district 17 of the UMWA. He assured the crowd that the reports of brutality by deputy sheriffs were exaggerated. [167]

By late November 1919 miners of district 29 of the New River field began returning to work. Fully 80 percent of the miners returned, with production running about 80 percent. [168] The strike was settled in December 1919 with a 14 percent average wage increase granted the miners. This was short of the UMWA's demand for a 60 percent increase. The Black Diamond recorded miners' reaction:

They were highly displeased on the one hand at the action of Dr. [Harry A.] Garfield in limiting the increase to fourteen per cent and they were equally displeased at the failure of their leaders to secure a sixty per cent advance in wages. What made them madder than anything else was the failure of Lewis and his brother officials to grasp the chance to secure a thirty-one per cent increase. [169]

The next major labor conflict occurred with the unionization efforts in Logan and Mingo counties in 1920-1921. It was during this unionization attempt that seven Baldwin-Felts agents, including two Felts brothers, Albert and Lee, were shot down in the "Matewan Massacre," in Matewan, West Virginia. A reoccurrence of terror followed: between July 1920 and July 1921 there were 125 acts of violence, with a death toll of more than 100 people. Another march on Logan County was planned, started, then called off. After the killing of several miners in the "Sharples Massacre," however, 5,000 men began marching again and fought 1,200 to 1,300 state police, deputy sheriffs and armed guards at the "Battle of Blair Mountain" for four days. Only federal intervention with troops could end the battle. [170]

The New River Operators Association kept open communication with its member operators about the strike events as they occurred. Secretary Thomas L. Lewis issued bulletins describing events in the Logan County struggle. [171] The New River operators asserted it was impossible to operate the mines and continue to pay the prevailing wages because of the postwar economic depression. Low Moor managers were urged by the New River Operators Association to offer work to their miners if they signed a petition to return to work at the rates paid previous to September 1, 1919. The mines were then locked out until the miners submitted to the cuts. Nearly 80 mines in the New River field were idle. [172]

The aftermath of the miners' defeat in Logan and Mingo counties included the sharp drop in UMWA membership in district 17. By April 1922 the UMWA lost most of the New River members signed during World War I, and the local UMWA chapter, no. 2839, of district 29 was disbanded. [173] No negotiations between the operators and miners of the New River field concerning a new wage scale took place, indicative of the ineffectiveness of the UMWA's district 29. New River operators did not have to negotiate with the union because individual agreements were being made with the miners, and because so few miners remained in the union. Before this time a conference had always been held before the expiration of a contract. The last contract made was in September 1919; the one shortly broken by the November 1919 strike. Miners at 102 mines out of the 122 in the New River field took the initiative in accepting a reduction in pay and withdrew from the union. According to the Black Diamond, the miners appeared to be satisfied with the arrangements. [174]

The UMWA failed to negotiate agreements with both the bituminous and anthracite coal operators to take the place of agreements in the Central Competitive Field which had expired on March 31, 1922. Union workers went on strike on April 1, 1922; 610,000 of 795,000 men complied with the strike call. Terrible conditions existed in the coalfields during this strike. In June 1922 the West Virginia Miners Relief Committee was formed and visited throughout the state to assess conditions. The committee focused primarily upon Fayette and Raleigh counties. Many of the 119 mines in the field were working as the operators had reduced wages and were operating nonunion. The commission estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 families in the field were in need, with 12,000 to 15,000 people in these families. Continued unemployment or slack time aggravated the distress. For the past year and a half the bituminous coal market had been depressed, with mines lying idle for months. The New River and Kanawha fields suffered severely from this depression. The most needy were families evicted from company houses during the strike. [175]

Many of the coal operators responded by opening their mines on the 1917 scale of wages and reemploying their men individually without union contract. The men returned to work in large numbers because of privation. At Kay Moor, 87 men returned to work during the week of May 11, 1922. [176] Under 1917 wage scale, day laborers in and about the mines received $4.10 and $4.68 a day. According to the West Virginia Miners Relief Commission:

Unionism in parts of West Virginia where it has existed for years, notably in the New River field, is being driven into underground channels. Locals of the Union, made up of the unemployed, are meeting secretly and holding their charters under cover. The impression made upon the commission is that many of these men, clinging to what they regard as their fundamental rights, will work clandestinely for a reinstatement of collective bargaining. This bodes ill for industrial peace and is very likely to place the New River field in the same status as Mingo county and those other regions in West Virginia in which the union has been aggressively fought. [177]

During the summer of 1922 agreements were reached in both the bituminous and anthracite fields. The bituminous agreement called for a conference of operators and miners to negotiate a new wage scale. It also called for a joint committee of inquiry, the expenses of which were half paid by the operators and half by the UMWA. [178]

Thus was established the United States Coal Commission, created by act of Congress approved September 22, 1922. This commission was to secure information concerning all problems in connection with the coal industry. Six commissioners were appointed by President Warren Harding to pursue the work. [179] The coal commission's work provided a detailed look at conditions in coal fields across the nation. It analyzed economic questions of coal production as well as scrutinized living conditions. Most importantly, the commission made recommendations for solving problems in the highly-troubled industry. [180]

The Fayette Tribune reported the coal commission's findings:

Comparing the controversy in the coal situation to that over slavery just prior to the Civil war, the United States coal commission declared in a report submitted to President [Calvin] Coolidge that the national interest required establishment of a fixed code for settlement of this and other industrial reports.

Regardless of the inherent rights possessed by both sides, the commission held the necessity of coal to the general public makes it incumbent upon both operators and workers to make some personal sacrifices in the interest of the commonwealth.

The condition resembles the conflict in independence concerning human rights and the then clearly constitutional right of human slavery, the report said. The great mass of those arrayed upon either side were unwilling to compromise or adjust. It was permitted to go on until the agony of a fraternal war solved the problem. It is to be hoped that we have learned wisdom by experience.

If industrial peace is to be hoped for, the commission said, then some method must be found to guarantee, as near as fallible human judgment may, equally exact justice to capital, to labor and to the public. There must be one yardstick adopted by which all controverted questions are to be measured. Public interest demands that certain fixed principles shall be recognized by both capital and labor as this yardstick.

The commission does not find, notwithstanding many unfortunate occurrences, unlawful acts and unwise statements that it is or has been the ultimate object of the United Mine Workers of America to unionize all the mines by force if necessary. Upon the other hand, it does not find regardless of unfortunate statements and unlawful conduct, that it is the fixed purpose of non union operators to destroy the United Mine workers.

The commission chooses rather to give those who are from the moral standpoint, charged with violation of the law, the benefit of the doubt as to criminal intent. [181]

Almost seemingly in response to the U.S. Coal Commission's report, the Logan and Mingo battles in West Virginia were followed by strikes in 1924-1929 after the coal companies' rejection of negotiated labor agreements in the northern fields. [182] The coal depression in the 1920s stiffened competition between the northern and southern coal producers. The UMWA and northern coal operators negotiated the Jacksonville Agreement of 1924 which held operators to a fixed wage scale. Southern operators, however, could lower wages, thereby acquiring a larger share of even the depressed market. Once again, the renegade southern operators managed to undersell their northern competitors in the unionized fields. After the Jacksonville Agreement took effect, most of the nonunion operators reduced wages to the 1919 level, and then to prewar levels. By the end of 1925 almost all mines in southern West Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southwest Virginia were nonunion. Production was at an all-time high. [183]

Thus, the collapse of the UMWA in West Virginia after 1923 was the result of many factors. Historian Thomas Edward Posey determined:

The competition of the non-union southern mines upon the natural market of the organized northern fields, the unwillingness of the miners' unions to accept wage reductions in the organized areas, the decline in the demand for coal occasioned by better coal utilization, and the competition of other fuels, the depression which began in 1929, and the unemployment caused by this combination of circumstances reduced the proportion of the coal mined under union contract from under 70 per cent in 1922 to approximately 20 per cent in 1932. [184]

The Kay Moor mines were sold in 1925. Very little information is known concerning labor relations at Kay Moor under the new ownership because of lack of access to any surviving papers of the Berwind Land Company. It is known that in January 1927 the New River and Pocahontas mines at Kay Moor, Minden, and Layland abandoned an increased pay scale that had gone into effect on November 1, 1926. According to a local newspaper, "The action was not unexpected by employees who were prepared for the cut and accepted the situation philosophically. These miners have a record of continuous operation and attract the highest class of labor." [185]

Unionization of the southern West Virginia mines finally occurred after the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933. This act was designed to help stabilize industry during the Great Depression, and it offered an eight-hour work day and minimum wage scales as a way for industry to employ large numbers of workers. Section 17(a), also called the "magna carta of labor," guaranteed employees the right of collective bargaining and outlawed yellow-dog contracts. Coal operators who were so against the union agreed to accept collective bargaining because it might help the industry, then deteriorating badly during the depression. The UMWA jumped on the opportunity to organize practically all of the country's coal mines. Within just a few months all West Virginia was organized and the traditional anti-union defenses were broken. [186]

The following description by McAlister Coleman bore witness to the intensive, history-making unionization drive:

That spring [1933], [John L.] Lewis put himself at the head of an organizing campaign which union men still refer to with awed admiration. Assembling the largest force of organizers the United Mine Workers had ever put into the field, some hundred professionals and volunteers, he set aside for their use the last cent of the International Treasury and bade them go forth . . . . Through territory where, not long before, federal troops and government had been deployed against the marching unionists, into the Rockefeller domains of Consolidation and the Mellon-held stronghold of Western Pennsylvania drove the organizers calling out "The President wants you to join. Your government says 'Join the United Mine Workers.'"

The instantaneous mass response to the organizers' appeals on the part of men who had never seen the inside of a union hall stunned the non-union operators and must have come as a surprise to Lewis himself. His emissaries were deluged with applications for membership. They gave the obligation to jammed mass meetings in such supposedly anti-union bastions as Mingo County, West Virginia, and the Connellsville coke regions in Pennsylvania. When hard-working organizers met and compared notes they exclaimed exultantly: "The old union is coming back, by God." [187]

The NIRA was passed on June 16 and almost immediately afterward, organization efforts were underway in Fayette County. On Sunday, June 18, 1933, 500 miners paraded through the streets of Oak Hill, West Virginia. An organizational meeting was held at Kay Moor the next day, Monday, June 19. More than 200 men reportedly joined the union. Meetings were also held that week at Minden, Oak Hill, Gatewood, and other places in the county. [188]

The new federal legislation allowed John L. Lewis to gain new authority and stature, and in 1933 he negotiated the first of several industry-wide contracts called the Appalachian Agreements, which effectively eliminated unfavorable wage differentials for the West Virginia miners. Coal operators objected, but subsequent legislation, the Wagner Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Guffey Coal acts of 1935 and 1936, supported the miners' gains. [189]

In February 1937 operators of the New River field voiced their approval of the Guffey-Vinson coal control bill. The bill had as its main provision the fixing of coal prices in the bituminous fields. It made no reference to wages. Prices were to be fixed by the federal government. The original Guffey bill was enacted over the opposition of many operators in the last session of Congress, and was later declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The operators voiced the opinion that if coal control legislation were needed, the Guffey-Vinson bill was preferred to any other legislation. [190]

All of these union negotiations occurred during the Great Depression in an effort to bring some stability to the industry. Economic conditions were so bad in 1938 that Kay Moor laid off 300 men in April. [191] The miners won a "union shop" in the New River field in 1939, with the exception of the McKell mines at Kilsyth, Tamroy, and Oswald. Unionization brought discipline into the coal mines, with the coming of uniform hourly wages, daily working hours, and a limited number of paid holidays. [192]

Following the NIRA of 1933 and the Wagner Labor Relations Act of 1935, labor relations were peaceful in West Virginia until World War II. In 1943 John L. Lewis presented wage demands to the coal operators, resulting in the union striking in the middle of the war to secure their demands. Bypassing the War Labor Board, which had been created to settle strikes, Lewis pulled out his men on May 1. The result was national anger. According to Thomas Edward Posey:

This exhibition of power by labor aroused the fear and animosity of conservative, individualistic farmers, soldiers, merchants, white collar workers, and capitalists to new heights. Even some liberals and communists joined them in vitriolic denunciations of Lewis. Instead of being the Samson of labor he became the betrayer of labor. Some law abiding citizens claimed that he ought to be lynched. Some soldiers insisted that he be shot as a traitor and damned his "coal black soul." Congress prepared and passed stringent anti-labor legislation, but Lewis and his miners never wavered. Three times he called them out on strike in 1943, and three times they came out 100 per cent strong. [193]

To understand why the miners followed Lewis with "unquestioned allegiance," is to understand the traditional miner's independence and the miners' belief in the union and union policy. To the miner, the union "gives him a sense of dignity, security, freedom, and equality with the operators. As a matter of fact, especially in West Virginia, a strong union not only protects his economic rights, but also his civil liberties." [194] During the war years the miners won their demands in their fight with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

John L. Lewis first proposed his "participating royalty" plan in 1945 even though it did not become a negotiating issue until 1946. He asked that coal producers pay $.10 for each ton of coal mined to the UMWA to provide for medical, hospitalization, insurance, and rehabilitation protection. [195] At the 1946 Wage Conference, Lewis delivered his famous speech wherein he indicted the coal industry for "over a period of 14 years, through mismanagement, cupidity, stupidity, and wanton neglect, made dead 28,000 mine workers; and for the same reason, violently mangled, crushed and shattered the bodies of 1,400,000 workers." [196]

After a month of negotiation the conference was stalemated; Lewis refused to yield, the operators refused to concede. A strike followed, wherein President Harry S Truman seized the mines on May 21, 1946. A contract was finally signed on May 29 by the secretary of the interior and John L. Lewis. This contract contained the famous Welfare and Retirement Fund clause. [197]

Further data concerning the post-1925 history of Kay Moor No. 1 has not been obtained due to lack of access to any surviving Kay Moor papers owned by the Berwind Land Company. Low Moor Iron Company records reveal that Kay Moor No. 1 was opened to supply coal and coke for the iron company's blast furnaces at Low Moor, Virginia. The mine was sold in 1925 in an attempt to stave off financial collapse, an attempt which failed as the Virginia iron industry faltered.

The Kay Moor mine was representative of others in the southern West Virginia smokeless fields in terms of its operation and labor. Even though compressed-air coal cutters were introduced almost as soon as the mine opened, Kay Moor basically remained a pick and hand-loading operation. Kay Moor miners were composed of native West Virginians, workers attracted from coalfields in neighboring states, southern and eastern European immigrant labor, and migrant southern Blacks. Race relations were generally good, and certainly better than in northern cities and in southern sharecropping fields.

Kay Moor No. 1 remained non-union despite efforts of the UMWA until 1916. Even so, the union was short-lived, not to survive in southern West Virginia until after 1933. The miners at Kay Moor No. 1 supported national strike efforts, while Low Moor management joined the New River Operators Association in an effort to stop union activity. Only New Deal legislation and chaotic conditions in the coal industry during the Great Depression could insure the success of unionization.

The pride, independence and skill of the coal miner was legendary. Celebrated in song and story, the coal miner lived daily in the shadow of death from a careless move or a weak roof. Yet, as independent as an individual miner might have been, limits of life and work were dictated by controls inherent with living in a company town. The phenomenon of company towns accompanied the rapid growth of the coal industry in southern West Virginia.

Kay Moor No. 1 was supported by such a town where miners and their families lived their lives under the watchful eye of Low Moor Iron Company and New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company management. Kay Moor Top and Bottom housed generations of West Virginia mining families, from 1901 until 1962.

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Last Updated: 30-Jan-2009