Preparations are underway for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain.
For five days in the summer of 1921, the coalfields of southern West Virginia were a warzone. Miners, intending to unionize the coal mines or die trying, clashed with state police, local militiamen, and coal company thugs at the Battle of Blair Mountain. The bloodshed only came to an end after President Warren G. Harding called in federal troops.
Now, as we approach the 100th anniversary of this event, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan is again rallying the troops. The museum plans to create a series of interactive, immersive history events in Boone, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, and Mingo counties as part of its Blair Centennial Project.
“This sort of undertaking, it’s going to take a village to pull it off,” says Catherine Moore, president of the museum’s board of directors. “We’ve given ourselves some good lead time, but a couple years will go by quick.”
The museum plans to kick off its centennial planning effort on September 22, 2018. The day will begin at 12:30 p.m. with a brainstorming session at the UMWA hall in Matewan. Moore says everyone—history nerds, tourism experts, community members—is welcome to attend the session.
Then, at 4:30, the union hall will host a Blair Mountain Strike Supper fundraiser. “Before a strike, you had to get ready. You had to prepare. The women had to grow extra vegetables and can extra meat and vegetables and get everything laid out,” Moore says. Attendees will sample a menu that will include traditional West Virginia dishes alongside cuisine from the immigrant communities that came to work in the mines.
That strike dinner will also include a story collection booth for people with personal connections to the mine wars, a “redneck” photo booth where attendees can pose with red bandannas and strike signs, and the announcement of the first-ever “Red Bandanna Award.” Moore says the museum staff hasn’t yet chosen the award’s recipient, but it will be someone who embodies the spirit of the miners who marched on Blair Mountain. “We thought an award program would be a really good way to make connection between the history of the mine wars and present-day West Virginia.”