Blair Pathways is a music history project, the aim of which is to produce a music CD that tells the story of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars. We utilize rare and never-before recorded historic coal-field music to form this narrative, bringing the story of America's largest labor uprising to music and history lovers everywhere. In addition to the CD, Blair Pathways will provide a written narrative, interactive map and music archives in order to form a well-rounded understanding of these coal wars.
The Blair Pathways Project is neither a compilation of contemporary songs nostalgically referencing historic events, nor is it a general review of an era via a particular music genre. This CD, as directly as possible, sources music from West Virginia and Appalachian coal mining wars to illustrate the major events, battles and themes of this time period. With styles ranging from Italian folk song, English balladry, African-American gospel, American hymn-tunes and more, the songs and instrumentals we utilize reflect the diversity of West Virginia's Mine Wars history. Nationally-recognized musicians are committing their time and energy to help bring this project to life. Our full list of musicians includes: Carolina Chocolate Drops' Dom Flemons, ballad-singer Elizabeth Laprelle, award-winning banjo player Brett Rattliff, Tim Eriksen, Jubal's Kin, Sam Gleaves, Reverend Bob Jones, Bernice Jones, the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, Wayne Erbsen, Jamie Laval, Elaine Purkey, Jason Shelton and the First UU Choir of Nashville, 2/3 Goat and Morgan O'Kane.
These mine wars, fought for union recognition and better conditions generally, culminated with a 10,000-15,000 march and battle on Blair Mountain, WV in August of 1921. Blair Mountain deserves to be recognized and preserved as a historic site. That is why Blair Pathways is designed to educate as well as entertain. You donations will not only help produce the CD, but fund the development of high-school lesson plans as part of the Blair Lesson Plan Project. Your money will also help develop our comprehensive media including a historic narrative, online map and archives, which will supplement these lesson plans and be available to the general public to enhance appreciation of the story of the mine wars. Most importantly, Blair Pathways is not-for-profit. Proceeds from this project will go to the Blair Community Center and Museum in Blair, WV.
Last fall, Blair Pathways raised $4,000 through grassroots funding, and now we need $6,000 to finish this project. Your money will help pay our artists for their time and effort, fund the development of our online media, pay licensing fees and, of course, help us print the CD! (The materials used to make our CD packs will utilize partially-recycled board and 100% recycled CD trays to reduce environmental impact.)
Utilizing music to directly tell the story of these coal wars is an unprecedented experiment, and we'd love you to be a part of it. Please donate to help honor the Appalachian music, mountains and history we hold dear!
Saro Lynch-Thomason and Jordan Freeman
Track/Story Sample: "Law in the West Virginia Hills"
One of the songs featured in our video is "Law in the West Virginia Hills." Below read more about the song and its place in the Blair Pathways narrative!
This song was written by West Virginia balladeer Walter Seacrist. Seacrist’s childhood was intertwined with the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek Strikes: He grew up in the strike camp of Holly Grove, famous for its battle with the Bull Moose Special Train in Feb. 1913. Seacrist became a union member as an adult, and felt compelled to write several songs about his experiences in the mine wars. His best known song, now covered by several contemporary artists, is "The West Virginia Hills."
Because many of Seacrist's songs relate to direct events in the mine wars, Blair Pathways is excited to be utilizing two of his works: "The Striker's Orphan Child (which details the Battle of Holly Grove, Feb. 1913)" and "Law in the West Virginia Hills." This will be the first time (to our knowledge) that "Striker's Orphan Child" will be recorded to music and the first time that "Law in the West Virginia Hills" has ever been recorded period.
“Law in the West Virginia Hills” is largely autobiographical. In 1931 Seacrist’s sister-in-law witnessed the eviction of striking families from company housing in the Kanawha Valley region. She saw an unfortunately typical form of abuse by company guards, in which pregnant women were kicked in the stomach by coal company militia, killing their unborn children in the process. Seacrist's sister-in-law was pregnant herself, and died a few days later due to unknown causes. During this time her husband was in jail due to his union affiliations.
Although this story takes place in the early 1930s, many of its elements are typical in the experiences of miners during earlier mine wars in West Virginia. During the 1912-1913 strikes, an estimated 35,000 people were kicked out of company housing, and an estimated 15,000 were evicted again during the Mingo-Logan Wars (1919-1921). Testimonies by women after the 1912-1913 strikes illustrate the same form of abuse as described by Seacrist in “Law in the West Virginia Hills.”
Musician Sam Gleaves created his own moving arrangement of this piece, adapting some verses and shortening the song. Seacrist created his version to the tune of “Little Rosewood Casket” but Gleaves has adapted it to a lonesome “Wild Bill Jones” melody, which he learned from West Virginia friend Eddy Ogle.
Lyrics with new arrangement by Sam Gleaves:
In a little country churchyard,
Underneath a grassy mound,
There sleeps my own dear sister
In the cold and silent ground.
She was so tender hearted, oh,
So full of youthful life.
People that knew her loved her dear.
She was my brother's wife.
My brother was a mining man,
Toiling almost day and night
Deep down in the old coal mines
Away from God's sunlight.
To this valley there came a union, oh,
Brother joined with the band
For to better his condition of life
Children starved on every hand.
When the cruel mine foreman knew,
He sent my brother home,
No more to feed his wife and child
Digging that old black coal.
All over Kanawha Valley,
"We will strike!" the workers said.
For we are tired and starved to death
And our children cry for bread.
These miners banded together on
One warm, sunny July day
Then laid down their shovels and picks
And struck for better pay.
Then the company gun thugs came,
Officers all around
Drove the miners from their house and home,
Threw their wives and children down.
My sister, she saw their cruelty,
They say she lost her mind.
By the time the doctor came to her side,
Not a heartbeat could he find.
My brother is locked in a prison cell,
Until death shall set him free
But waiting for the Judgment Day
When his family again he'll see.
Peace is a stranger in this valley,
Justice is never there.
As I tell to you this story,
Do you think it's fair?
Do you think it's fair?
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- (30 days)