Friday, March 14, 2014

Saro Lynch-Thomason's "West Virginia Mine Wars Show": Coming April 2

Saro Lynch-Thomason, (image

Saro Lynch-Thomason will perform her “West Virginia Mine Wars show” at Daemen College’s Wick Social Room on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, starting at 7:30 pm. Daemen is located at 4380 Main Street, Amherst, NY. Before the show, illustrations from Lynch-Thomason's new (children's) book, Lone Mountain, will be on display in the Social Room. The event is free and open to the public. 

Saro Lynch-Thomason is a ballad singer, artist, folklorist, and labor activist whose West Virginia Mine Wars show grew from her involvement in the Blair Pathways Project, established to preserve Blair Mountain, WV, as an historic site. The "West Virginia Mine Wars show" features Lynch-Thomason narrating the story of the coal wars through historic first-person perspectives, period photographs and music of the era. Her music is a mix of strong solo voice and mountain dulcimer- a traditional instrument of Appalachia. Interspersed with the music and narration is a multi-media backdrop of historical images telling the story of the West Virginia Mine Wars. The performance emphasizes connections with traditional Appalachian culture, labor activism, and coal mining, highlighting the historical significance of Blair Mountain. Lynch-Thomason’s work also addresses the devastating impact of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, sometimes described as “strip mining on steroids,” which has become widespread throughout the Appalachian coal fields. Learn more about the show at the website for Blair Pathways, "The Mine Wars Show."

Lynch-Thomason has been deeply engaged in the efforts to preserve Blair Mountain’s history for several years. Her show at Daemen will explore the history and culture surrounding the Mine Wars of the early 1920s through historically accurate images and music from the era. In 2012 Lynch-Thomason produced The Blair Pathways CD, which features some of the music she will perform in her show at Daemen College. On the album, contributors include a range of folk luminaries:  Don Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Stray Birds, Jubal’s Kin, Riley Baugus, and Elizabeth Laprelle, among others. 

L-R: Musician Elizabeth Laprelle, Matewan Chief of Police (and folk hero) Sid Hatfield, banjo, and legendary labor organizer Mary Harris (Mother) Jones. Image from kickstarter.

from the Kickstarter page for the "Blair Pathways CD"

Lynch-Thomason has also recently published a children’s book, Lone Mountain (2014), which emphasizes the connections between the people and the environment of the Southern Appalachian region, explaining how both are endangered by mountaintop removal coal mining. Lynch-Thomason wrote the story and her watercolor paintings illustrate the book. She also coordinated the project and developed lesson plans for use in teaching about the book.


For all of the history fans out there, here's a bit of historical background about the West Virginia Mine Wars

These violent conflicts, which took took place during the first three decades of the early 20th century, were the result of miners’ attempts to unionize the bituminous coal fields of southern and central West Virginia, mainly under the leadership of the United Mine Workers (UMW) union. The mining industry had long been notorious for low pay, dangerous work conditions, and squalid living conditions, and circumstances in the Appalachian coal fields were particularly exploitative. Miners, whose ranks included mountaineers, immigrants, and African-Americans, risked their lives on a daily basis working in unsafe mines. Most were paid in scrip, a form of currency redeemable only in stores operated by coal mining companies, and they faced severe restrictions in civil liberties in the company towns where they lived. Confrontations between workers and employers erupted episodically during the 1910s, most notably during the 1912-1913 Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike, where legendary labor organizer Mother Jones delivered fiery speeches to miners and their families, and spent some 3 months in prison on charges of inciting violence.

Mother (Mary Harris) Jones, supplying shoes for children of WV miners evicted from their homes during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike, ca. 1912. Mother Jones was a fearless labor organizer, renowned for her social justice advocacy in behalf of children. (

The unionization effort surged forth again after World War I, reaching a climax during the Logan-Mingo [County] Wars of 1919-1921, which included numerous armed confrontations between miners and the private police forces employed by mine owners. Mine owners also used state and local police forces to combat unionization efforts. Miners saw their struggle in a righteous battle for civil and economic freedom, but mine owners and state authorities viewed the unionization campaign as a rebellious insurgency, and they were often backed by federal authorities who sided with the state government. 

The most famous incidents of the Logan-Mingo Wars included confrontations in 1920-21 in the town of Matewan (commemorated in the award-winning 1987 John Sayles film, “Matewan”) and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the most significant armed engagement in the coal wars. It was also the largest armed labor uprising in American history. During the pitched battle that took place on Blair Mountain in August 1921, an army of miners estimated at upwards of 10,000 battled a force that included thousands of “militiamen” whose ranks included anti-union forces led by Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin and state police troops deployed by WV Governor Morgan. Mine owners used private planes to drop bombs on the miners’ army. After several days of engagement, the confrontation came to an end with the arrival of some 2,000 federal troops.

Today, Blair Mountain Battlefield is an endangered historic site. 

Blair Mountain (at center of photo) is endangered by Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, as illustrated by this 2010 photo from Smithsonian magazine
In 2006, the Blair Mountain was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places.” Since that time it continues to be endangered, especially after being de-listed as a National Historic Site in a controversial action criticized by historians and preservationists. The site is endangered because the mineral rights beneath it are privately owned, and mining companies want to remove the coal through mountaintop removal coal mining, which will destroy the site, as described in this 2010 article from Smithsonian magazine

Sponsors of "The West Virginia Mine Wars Show" include Daemen's Office of Academic Affairs, Division of Arts & Sciences, Office of Student Affairs, History & Political Science Department, Department of Modern Languages, the Visual and Performing Arts Department, and the Global & Local Sustainability Program.
Please contact Dr. Penny Messinger, Associate Professor of History, with any questions: pmessing @

1 comment:

Penny Messinger said...

For a photo-essay about Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, visit!CabFN

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