Source: WV History Film Project
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY FILM PROJECT,
MAY 6, SOUND ROLL 131, DENISE GIARDINA
GIARDINA INTERVIEW, TAKE 1, ROLL 295, SOUND 132.
Q: Denise, let's begin with, give me sort of a
general sense of what land means to West Virginians.
What is it about this land?
DG: Well, I think, first of all, the landscape is so distinctive. I think when you grow up in mountains, it marks you. I'm sure there are other landscapes that do that, too, but there is something about the, just the feel of the mountains all around and, especially, the way they are so close. I think that there is a sense of protection and shelter that, I know, I felt as a child growing up and I've heard a lot of West Virginians talk about that and the beauty of the mountains.
But, also, I think, just the fact, that so much of the story of land and the state has been a story of loss. I think, you know, sometimes, when you loose things they, they become, more precious, somehow, too. There's a sense that it's not really yours. But, that it's still a place that has a hold on you. There is a contradiction there, that maybe leads West Virginians to be attached to the place in a way that they might not if they felt, maybe, more secure on the land, somehow.
Q: Was there a moment in your own childhood
when you realized, or were made to realize, that West
Virginia was, at least, perceived to be different from
other places in America?
DG: Well, of course, there's the, there is always the media stereotype.
Q: Stop, wait for this truck to go by. [Pause.]
DG: On the one hand, there are always the media stereotypes that, you know, I watched the Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid and there was a part of me that enjoyed it, just 'cause it was funny, but I also knew it was making fun of where I was from. And, that, I met people from out-of-state, occasionally, and traveled out-of-state on vacations, and people would kind of snicker when you said you were from West Virginia and I met kids who said "do you wear shoes?" and that kind of thing. There is always the, I think everybody from West Virginia has had experiences like that, of just being put down.
There is, also, there were differences that I realized at a very young age, though too, that had to do with something, just the opposite, I think, you know, I would go to school and I would read my Fourth Grade and Fifth Grade History books about American History and freedom and how people had come to this country in search of their own land, and that kind of thing. And, realized that I lived in, where I lived, we didn't own the land that our house sat on and we didn't own our house.
And, I remember, one of my earliest memories, is of living in this sort of white coal camp house that had turned gray, because it was so dingy with the coal dust and, then, the company came and repainted the houses and they painted them all this real "icky" yellow color that was, nobody liked, and I was sort of asking "why can't we have, you know, why can't we have a green house, you know," and my Mom saying "well, the company decided this was what they were gonna paint the house, it's their house." And, it was their house, and it was their land and my Mom had a garden patch, that she worked and she had to have the garden patch that the company gave her. It was all marked out by the company and they assigned the garden patches to people and there was no choice about any of that. And, there was a sense of living in this place and feeling really rooted to this place.
In a way, I think especially children feel, and yet, knowing it wasn't mine and then going to school and hearing what seemed like a myth, in some ways, that somehow America was someplace else where people had their land and then they farmed it and all that. It didn't apply to us, somehow.
Q: It's an ironic situation. A state whose motto is
"Mountaineers are Free" and which attracted to many
immigrants seeking independence and freedom.
There were a couple of generations where freedom
was a precious commodity in the turn of the century,
early 1900's in West Virginia.
DG: In the coal fields, that's definitely true. I think, you know, there's a map that was used at the, that the United Mine Workers used for, sort of, propaganda purposes or whatever, that shows the United States and where West Virginia is it has Russia, instead of West Virginia. And, actually, I even felt, even as late as my own childhood in the 50's and early 60's, that it wasn't like living in a free country that you hear the United States is supposed to be. It was more like a dictatorship. And, you know, democracy is a place where people have, make decisions over their own lives and they have a vote, that's not affected by any kind of trickery or pressure, and where they are free to own their own land and to set up their own businesses and where they are free to speak their mind. And, none of that existed in the coal fields, even up into my own generation. So, it does seem like a contradiction.
Q: How was it that sense of independence was, let's cut. There's a plane.
GIARDINA, TAKE 2.
Q: Let's go back into the last century, what is the
story, what's your sense of the story of coal coming to
DG: Well, in the southern part of the state, in particular, it was something that was so sudden, I think, that in some ways it's hard to imagine how people did cope with it. Because, you did, literally, have a situation where in a period of seven or eight years, most of the land changed hands under pretty suspicious circumstances. And, in some cases, a lot of pressure and a lot of legal chicanery and, and just a, ways that ah, dislocating people from land that had been in their family for several generations. And, the trauma then, and not only losing, people losing their land and having to move off their farms, but seeing, if you look at photographs of the early coal camps and the first, say ten or fifteen years, of the development of coal, you see the hillsides, just totally shaved of trees. And, this had been an area where you had the huge, virgin forests, still.
And, ah, all of the sudden, it is just like bald hills which is full of scrub bushes on them and that's all. Just the total landscape changed and places that had been farming places became just one town after another and all the things that you associate with was, cities, really, smoke and noise and, you know, trains and machinery and, then this, this occupation that was this ah, dangerous work, ah, and a lot of new people coming in, ah, which is part of the irony of the whole situation is that people like my family, my father's family, came in and there are many people who are West Virginians now who wouldn't be here, if it weren't for coal.
So, you have to look at that side of it. Ah, but just the, the dislocation for everybody concerned, whether they were mountain people who had been thrown off their land, whether they were immigrants from Europe who were in a new country where they couldn't even speak the language, whether they were African-Americans who come up who had also lost their land during Jim Crow years and were kind of fleeing the real terrible conditions in deep south, at that time. They were all people who were dislocated people and they were all people who were, actually, people who were despised, in many ways, were the mainstream culture and the people with power and the people with money all thrown together in a totally new situation. I'm sure that if they had had psychiatrists back in those days, there would have been interesting things to say about, you know, what that does to people. The kind of dislocation that people went through and the living conditions that they, that they had to put up with.
Q: Let's talk about that, briefly. Some people realized, some people lost their land overnight in a court case. Some people were happy as punch to sell seven acres or seven miles, in one case a mountaineer sold seven miles of coal seam along the river for $300.00, and a mule, and he was happy about it. Later, though, he and. Let's cut.
DG: So many people, in West Virginia, had the experience at this time of losing their land. And, it didn't, always, happen overnight. Sometimes, they were able to sell mineral rights and they thought they would be able to stay and then they found that that wasn't the case. Ah, and, ah, I think people in the mountains, in general, and West Virginia, specifically, have always been real family oriented. And, it was the land that people owned that allowed them to.
Q: Just a second. A cat?
DG: I think it's a cat trying to get out.
Q: OK. Go on.
DG: Is that going to be a problem if she does it again? I think she woke up from her nap.
Q: I'll ID, if you want to check. OK. Ready?
THIS IS PRESENCE FOR THE GIARDINA
INTERVIEW ON ROLL 1.
??. Good enough. PAUSE. OK. Thank you. PAUSE.
WEST VIRGINIA FILM PROJECT, SOUND ROLL 132, MAY 5, DENISE GIARDINA INTERVIEW.
GIARDINA, TAKE 4, ROLL 296, SOUND 133. [This is not sound roll 133, this is in error]
Q: Denise, tell me about what happened when
families began to realize that the had lost more than
just their mineral rights to the land.
DG: Well, in a rural place like West Virginia, land is what you have, that's your security and it's not just, I mean, partly it's the, just the setting and the beauty of it, and, but it is also the place where you grow your food, and it's your home. And, it, in many ways, it was even much more for most people, it was their main possession. I mean, this was not a largely cash society, I mean, people lived off the land. They raised what they needed and it is sort of like the buffalo for the Indians. The land was what provided people with what they needed. And, it, also, was the place where people gathered. It was the anchor for your whole family, and family has always been real important in West Virginia.
So, when people lost their land, they really lost their whole life, I mean, they were totally dislocated. It's like being, you know, deeply rooted, you know, and then just being pulled out of that soul and just kind of left to dry in the sun, if you want to use a sort of plant, kind of, analogy. But, people were totally dislocated. They had no security and they, also, had no control over their life. They had, they found themselves treated as strangers in their own place.
All of the sudden, the place where they were used to doing what they wanted, you know, farming where they wanted, hunting where they wanted, suddenly, it's like a big "no trespassing" sign goes up on the whole place. I mean, you could, literally, walk for miles, you know, fifteen, twenty miles and not set foot on land that wasn't owned by a company. And, in which, the company could dictate what you did. The companies sort of said "this is our property, it's like you come into our house, you have to act the way we say and, so, when you are on our land, you have to act the way we say." And, you were a stranger in your own place, all of the sudden. It must have been a, a horrifying experience, I would think.
Q: Who were these people who were taking it
DG: They were, companies, some of them British, some American, some railroads and some coal companies and some land companies. The land companies and the railroads, usually, would then lease to coal companies. So some coal companies, themselves didn't actually own the land, but they worked with the companies who did. There were, companies who came in and bought up mineral rights, just for pennies. Which, to many people at that time seemed like a good deal, because they didn't have a lot of cash and this was a time when the economy was changing, somewhat, and it was becoming more handy to have some cash. And, especially, as land began to be bought up by companies, taxes would go up a little bit and there was pressure that way. So, people thought that they could stay on the land, if they sold their mineral rights. They were told that they could, often. And, that's, that's how much of it was lost.
By selling the coal underneath and thinking that they could still stay on the land, itself. But, the people who came in, ah, were, ah, some of them were sort of self-made people. Those were people from wealthy families, like the Pratts and the Guggenheims, people like that. The family that owned the Cleveland Plane Dealer at the time, came in a bought up a lot of land in Logan County, for example. Ah, and, there's a story that, ah, the young son of the family came down to look over the family's holdings and set up a tent and serve champagne out in the middle of this field, you know, in Logan County. And, ah, so they came from a variety of backgrounds, but mostly, ah, either people from out-of-state or people from, in some cases, people from Charleston and Huntington in West Virginia, the larger towns in West Virginia. But, they weren't people from the place itself, they were outsiders.
Q: Is that when West Virginians started to
develop a strong sense of "us" and "them," locals and
DG: I believe so. In the reading I've done, ah, I don't get any sense that --
Q: Tell me about when it happened. Why don't
you tell me about what it is? What is this sense of
"us" and "them?" This sense of identity. It seems like
the world, for many West Virginians, is divided into
"native West Virginians" and "those others."
DG: Well, when the history of the last several generations has been that when someone comes in from the outside, they want something from you. And, they take it. And, they also, to justify that taking, they vilify you in the process. Ah, at the time that, at the same time that the coal companies were taking all this land, the National press was painting this horrible, lurid picture of mountain people. There are some quotations from the New York Times of that period that were just, that just make my skin crawl, frankly. And, ah, there's this myth that nobody outside of West Virginia sort of knew what was going on here. That somehow, it was, because we were remote, that it all happened. That that's how it happened so easily.
In fact, it's just the opposite. The national press knew what was going on, and justified it and editorialized that it was a good thing that this land was being taken from these people because they were backward and, I think the phrase the New York Times used was "they could go live their hereditary squalid lives somewhere else." So, ah, their, can I stop? --
Q: Yes, stop.
DG: I feel like I really jumbled, I mean, I said the right thing, but I really, kind of, stumbled over the words. hereditary squalor lives, I'm not sure I said it very clearly with it.
Q: OK. Are we still rolling, Chip? YES. OK.
Do you just want to start over? Do you just want to
start that over? Say, "there was one quotation from
DG: There's one quotation in the New York Times that just, ah, ah, really, just makes my skin crawl. It just makes me so angry. They said "that it was a good thing to take this land from these people because then, they could just go live their hereditary squalor lives somewhere else." There was justification for, for taking, ah, land in West Virginia and people in West Virginia, ah, knew that that was going on, too. There's the myth that, ah, West Virginians didn't know anything about the outside world. I don't think that's true. Ah, and resented it. They knew that outsiders had come in and, and, taken everything they owned, literally. And, and, thrown them into bondage, ah, in a quite literal sense. And, of course, ah, there developed this sense of "them" and "us," because it was so clearly defined by the people who came in from the outside who, ah, they saw it the same way.
Ah, they say people in the mountains as totally, "other," and that's how they, I don't think people are able to do what these companies did, unless they justify to themselves, somehow. And, the only way they could justify it, is to, sort of, denigrate the people that they are exploiting and I think that that is true in a lot of places and, I think it was true in West Virginia. So, on both sides, I think there developed this sense of "otherness" toward the other group.
Q: How is it, do you think, that that the stalwart
pioneer, the kind of people that would have built
America, that image of the people in West Virginia,
became the image of the ignorant hillbilly?
DG: Well, that shift took place at the same time that the coal industry was moving in. It happened because it was convenient for it to happen.
Q. Could you say that in a complete sentence?
This image of the --
DG: The image of the Mountaineers, the sturdy frontiersman, you know living on the land and independent, freedom-loving, switched to this image of the ignorant Mountaineer living in squalid poverty, at the same time that the coal industry was coming in to take over the land and I believe that that switch happened because it was convenient for it to happen because it helped justify this wholesale theft from the people of West Virginia and it was played upon by the national press over and over again and it's the image of the Mountaineer, the hillbilly, that has stuck to this day frankly. It didn't really exist prior to the 1880's. You don't really find it. Ah, there was no sense of mountain people being strange or apart or anything of that nature. They were, no more than any other rural area.
Q: Let's leap ahead. Let's leap ahead into 1900's
and 1920's. What were the root causes, in both
general and, if you need to be specific, but in sort of a
general way. What were the root causes of the labor
DG: Well, when people have no control over their land, over their lives, over their work place or over the well being of their families and they have no freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly, ah, you can't expect there not to be ah, some protest and struggle because, I think, human beings just, eventually, ah, when they are treated that way, they fight back and I think that's what happened here. Ah, ah, if people had been treated well, you wouldn't have had this labor strife that you see in the coal fields --
Q: What, for you, what is sort of the definitive events in this and what do they tell us now, some seventy years later? What does, for instance, the Matewan Massacre, that's it. I don't know, do you want to, the better stuff, for me, is the more general, because we have a narrator to tell us.
DO WE CUT? CUT.
PAUSE TO END OF TAPE.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY FILM PROJECT, MAY 6, GIARDINA INTERVIEW, SOUND ROLL 133.
GIARDINA, TAKE 5, ROLL 297, SOUND 134.
Q: Denise, tell me about Frank Keeney.
DG: Well, I think Frank Keeney is one of the great Americans of the twentieth century, frankly. I think if, ah, if he were someplace besides West Virginia, that had gotten more national attention, and was speaking on behalf, maybe of people who weren't as marginalized as West Virginians were at that time, I think he would be much better known. He, ah, was a great speaker, he was, I think, a great moral leader. Ah, he was charismatic, ah, he was courageous, ah, and his life is such a, it's almost like an American tragedy, in some ways. Not, ah, maybe tragedy is too strong a word, but he went from being the leader of this great mass movement that led to this, ah, the armed march on Blair Mountain, ah, to, I think, he ended up his days in Charleston, ah, as a parking lot attendant.
Ah, and, ah, ah, in between, led a populist movement among coal miners, ah, when it looked like the, the United Mine Workers was becoming a bit removed and, and maybe not sort of looking after the needs of the rank and file, ah, he was just always a spokesperson for, for the average miner and was willing to kind of and get down in the trenches and, and speak up for what he thought was right. Ah, he was literate, he was, ah, ah, came from generations of West Virginians who had gone through the experience of losing the land that they had, ah, in Clay County, I believe, and, ah, I think his life is sort of the essential West Virginia life of that time. I think, ah, all the sort of issues and, ah, emotions, and the, all the things that people went through, Frank Keeney sort of embodied that, ah, in his life.
Q: What was he trying, stop. Cough. Ah, would you get her a glass of water? Sure.
GIARDINA, TAKE 6.
Q: Denise, what was Frank Keeney and the
movement that he led? What was it about?
DG: Can I just ask, you wanted me to repeat that other thing, or is this new?
DG: OK. Well, Frank Keeney really came to the fore, after World War I, ah, when the, ah, right before the War, the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strike had occurred and after all the things that happened and all the several years of privation that the miners went through and, ah, really didn't gain anything. A lot of people were real disgruntled and felt that the national leadership had been real timid, ah, the local miners tended to be much more, ah, militant, I think, than the national leadership and, ah, and, so these local leaders began to grow out of the rank and file of West Virginians and West Virginians speaking for West Virginians, saying, you know, "we're not so much interested in, in national politics and whether this is the right time or not, politically, ah, we are in trouble and we need to do something, now, for ourselves.
And, Frank Keeney, especially, ah, was spokesman for those miners. And, was elected, ah, President of the, ah, District which covered most of southern West Virginia, ah, I think with a pretty definite, ah, agenda from the miners themselves that they wanted something done and, of course, the War kind of caused a break in that everybody, basically, stopped and pulled together for those two years of American involvement in World War I. But, once it was over, ah, the miners were even more ready to do something, ah, because, ah, ah, the nation was at peace again and there was ??, the nation was going to be prosperous and the miners should share in that. Many of the miners had served in the War, and they came back and felt that they had served their country and, and they shouldn't have to come back and put up with the things that they were putting up with, that they should have the same rights as other American citizens.
Q: What were they putting up with?
DG: They were putting up with, ah, the lack of control over their land and their lives, ah, the, the company, ah, dictated to them where they could shop, ah, not paying them in company, ah, in American money, they had to take company money, ah, the companies, they felt were cheating them, ah, on their pay, ah, and, especially, they were putting up still with the Baldwin Felts guards, and this system of brutal police, ah, ah, presence that the Baldwin Felts Guards represented. And, just their own lack of freedom, lack of, ah, freedom to express themselves, ah, lack of freedom to meet, ah, ah, and they just, ah, ah, I think that scene, they had met people from other parts of the country in the Army and had gone abroad and, and came back and were not ready to to take that anymore.
Q: What skills did Frank Keeney bring to this?
What talents did he have?
DG: Well, I think, first of all, he was from the people.
Q: Say Frank Keeney.
DG: First of all, Frank Keeney was from the people. He, ah, was a West Virginian and he, ah, could speak to people, ah, in their own, on, their own terms and he was a miner. He wasn't somebody from an office somewhere. He had worked in the mines alongside the other people. Ah, he also was very well read and, ah, and a very good speaker. Ah, and, ah, seems to have had a great deal of energy and organizational ability, just to pull together the kind of, of march that took place on Logan County with all the logistics that that required, I think, shows a lot of his ability. Ah, and and, I think that, even though he wasn't on the march himself and was trying to act as sort of a mediator, he really was the force behind that march.
Ah, even though he wasn't sort of the general, in this field, so to speak. Ah, he also was ah, he was a Socialist and he was involved with ah, and in touch with a number of, ah, the leaders of the Socialist Party, nationally. He was not someone who was isolated. Ah, nor were the miners, in many ways. Many of the miners received the Socialist publications, regularly, and subscribed to Socialist newspapers, and, so Frank Keeney was someone who could contact Eugene Debs, or contact Mother Jones and speak to them on equal terms and be considered a leader of the same stature that they were. Ah, ah, he was a national figure, I believe, ah, ah, and, ah, was feared as such by the coal operators.
Q: Tell me about the March on Logan. It was a
remarkable event and one that really lay under the
surface of history for so many years.
DG: It's one, the March on Logan, the March on Logan is one of those events, ah, that, ah, it's hard to say, you know, exactly what causes it to happen at a certain time. It's just it happens and, ah, it's as if so many different forces come together and people who have put up with something for so long, just finally say "that's it." Something breaks and they, they have to do something about it. And, I sort of see the March on Logan County in those terms. I think the the shooting of Sid Hatfield on the Courthouse steps in Welch, was sort of the "straw that broke the camel's back." But, this was something had been building for a long time. And, if that hadn't happened, something else, I think, would have, would have triggered it. Ah, at some point people just have to stand up and say "this may not even be totally rational, what I'm doing, you know, to pick up, you know, your rifle and and try to overthrow the government of a County, or several counties, ah, ah, in this sort of armed effort, ah, knowing that probably the the forces of the other side are going to come down on you, real heavy." But, yet, you do it anyway. There is something, ah, at some point people just have to say "enough is enough, I have to do this to keep my human dignity." Ah, whether it succeeds or not and I think that was the sort of spirit that that March grew out of.
Q: Who was Don Chafin?
DG: Don Chafin was the Sheriff of Logan County, at the time. Ah, but he was much more than that. He, ah, was, ah, I think you could make analogies between Don Chafin and a Mafia kingpin, or Don Chafin and a Colombian drug lord, ah, or Don Chafin and the dictator of a, ah, a country. Ah, Don Chafin was, ah, ah, had his own private army, ah, he received money directly from the coal companies to fund it, he received a certain percentage of every ton of coal that was dug in Logan County. Ah, he also was a protector of businesses in the same way that that any organized crime outfit is. In other words, he would go to a business and say "if you don't let me protect you, I'll break your kneecaps." That kind of thing. He, he was, in that way, controlled all the liquor sales in the County, all the the taverns, all the gambling operations, ah, you know, he received kick-backs from all of them and was in charge of them. And, ran his County, ah, ah, with an iron fist. Ah, in other words, if you disagreed or got in the way, you were beaten or you were shot or you were thrown out. Ah, the, it's, you know anything could happen to you. Ah, --
Q: Let's pause there. We just ran out of battery.
I told you we would run out of battery.
DG: Did I get to the end of the sentence?
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY FILM PROJECT,
DENISE GIARDINA INTERVIEW, MAY 5.
SOUND ROLL 134.
GIARDINA, TAKE 7, ROLL 298, SOUND 135.
Q: Denise, tell me about Governor Hatfield, his
role in this and the anecdote?
DG: Governor Hatfield was, ah, a member of the Hatfield, ah, what was called "the clan" which is interesting because he, actually, goes against the stereotype of the Hatfields who fought the, supposedly fought this feud with the McCoys. He was the nephew of Devil Anse Hatfield. Ah, he was also, ah, a medical doctor and became Governor of the State of West Virginia as a progressive candidate. Part of the larger progressive movement of that time, ah, and, ah say himself, I think, as a champion of the miners and of the common person, ah, and saw himself as someone who wanted to improve life in West Virginia for everyday people. Ah, and so he went, during the Cabin Creek strike, to the tent colonies where people were living, ah, in the cold and without enough food and were ill. Ah, and spent, ah, a period of several days doctoring people. Took his black bag and just went up on his own, ah, and tended to Mother Jones when she was, ah, sick, ah. He came back to Charleston and the coal operators had heard what he was doing and were furious.
Ah, because they felt it gave aid and comfort to these, ah, these rebellious miners and sent a delegation to the governor's office to confront him on this. Ah, he became so angered at their, ah, at their, ah, Hatfield became so angered at the, at the operators insisting that he had done something terrible that his temper got the better of him. He apparently did have a bit of a temper and he punched out one of the coal operators, ah, which I always thought would have been a great scene to see. Just, apparently, flattened him right there in the Governor's Office. Ah, and, of course, ah, later was very apologetic, realized it didn't really look very good to have done that. Ah, but he also, ah, I think he kind of squandered his chances to be a hero for the miners, ah, because, ah, like many people in political office, he just began to think that maybe he could compromise and do something to please both sides. And, in trying to please both sides, he really ended up pleasing neither side. Ah, I don't think either the operators or the miners considered him someone they could trust and look to. Ah, so, --
Q: Tell me, who was Sid Hatfield and what did
he come to represent to miners?
DG: Well, I think, as far as Sid the person, as far as Sid Hatfield the person goes it's, it's real hard to get it in an exact picture, I think. And, that is true of many historical figures, but I think he is very enigmatic, you know, and everyone seems to have, you know, everyone who knew him, ah, or claims to have known him or known someone who knew him, seems to have a different opinion of him. Ah, I think he is somewhat mysterious. I think he is, somewhat, of a puzzle. Ah, but in a sense, it's, ah, what's important is not who Sid Hatfield, the actual man, was, but who he became after his death. Ah, and I think you see that a lot in mass movements, too. Sid Hatfield, dead, was someone who had finally, after so many years, stood up to the coal operators. And, especially, he stood up to the Baldwin Felts Guards who had been brutalizing people for so long. Ah, and for someone to finally to say, "this is enough."
Even though the way that they choose to do that was, ended up being very violent, I think, ah, people felt that, ah, someone had finally, they finally had a champion. And, when he was killed, the way he was killed, ah, the loss was, ah, was an extremely incredible loss for people. And, it really was what galvanized them. Ah, he was sort of, I sort of see him as the John Brown of the Mine Wars, in a sense. Ah, you can question, you know, his character or the methods that he chose, but the final result was that he, he really started this, ah, insurrection, ah, that then took on a life of its own. And, that was what was important.
Q: Say that again, starting with "I see him as a
John Brown," kind of make that more compact and
DG: I really see Sid Hatfield as the John Brown of the Mine Wars. He was, ah, the person who, while he shows violent methods and you might question his moral character, ah, and he, while he remains something of a mystery, I think as far as the essential person, ah, he was the spark that set off this congregation?? that became the mine wars. Ah, and that took on a life of its own, at that point.
Q: What do you think this whole period, 1912
Paint Creek through the March on Logan? What do
you think it really accomplished?
DG: Well, if you are looking at practical terms, it didn't accomplish a lot. Ah, --
Q: Could you start that with "in line with this"
DG: If, in, when you're looking in practical terms, the Mine Wars, ah, and the March on Logan didn't accomplish a lot, you might say, because at the end of that time, the Union, really, was broken throughout the state. Ah, throughout the 1920's, ah, you know, mine after mine became non-Union and the Union's membership shrank. The mine guards were still there. And, it would appear that, ah, that nothing had been gained. In fact, there were other losses, as well. Frank Keeney and people like him lost their positions of leadership after the Mine Wars. Ah, so, there was a period of time when, ah, things must have looked pretty bleak. Ah, but I think two things that the Mine Wars accomplished, ah, first of all, ah, they gave people something to look back to when the 1930's rolled around and the Roosevelt Administration came in, then there was a sense that something could be accomplished and people who had been involved in the Mine Wars were still around and knew that they had stood up for something in the past, and that now they could, finally, press those demands. And, they did.
And, and during the Roosevelt Administration, you saw a resurgence of the Union. And, most miners were able to join the Union, the Baldwin Felts Guard system was abolished and, and things really did change in the coal fields. Without the Mine Wars, I'm not sure that would have happened quite so quickly, because I don't think people would have been quite so ready to, for that to happen. Ah, but even more important, I think, ah, the people who were involved in the Mine Wars stood up for what was right. Ah, they stood up for themselves, ah, there's a myth that people in West Virginia have been very passive and have not tried to help themselves and deal with their problems. And, in fact, people risk their lives.
Q: Stop, for just a second. I want you to start
that part, again, after this car goes by. OK.
DG: There's a myth, [PAUSE, MUFFLERS.] There's a myth that people in West Virginia have been very passive and haven't stood up for themselves, and haven't tried to, ah, to deal with their problems. And, that's just not true. And, ah, the mine, during the Mine Wars, people risked their lives. They risked their families. They risked their children's lives. They went through an incredible amount of suffering. Ah, to stand up and say "I'm a human being" and "I'm an American citizen" and "I deserve the same treatment as any other American citizen."
Q: Could you just say "that they stood up and
DG: They stood up and said "I'm an American citizen, I'm a human being and I deserve the same treatment as any other human being, and any other American citizen."
Q: Let's cut.
GIARDINA, TAKE 8.
Q: Tell me about dislocation in the 1950's.
DG: When I was a child, I lived in, what I thought was a stable community in a coal camp in McDowell County. And, it was a vibrant place. Ah, I can remember riding, ah, a bus to get to town in Welch, the County seat. And, I can remember going to the movie theater and the Italian Grocery Store and, ah, lots of different shops and people bustling about and it seemed about the time I was ten or eleven years old, the bottom sort of fell out. People were starting to move away. Things were starting to shut down. And, ah, at the age of thirteen, which I think is probably a tough age to be, to lose your home, my father lost his job and we were forced to leave. And, it was one of the most traumatic, I think, experiences of my life. Feeling that I had a home and then, it's not just the question of moving away. I think many Americans, we are a mobile society and many people move from one job to another. But, they can always go back to where they grew up, often, and point to where they grew up and say "well, this is the old neighborhood." When I go back, there's a field where my town was. There's a field of weeds and nothing left. When I go to see the old movie theater, it's not there anymore. Ah, any of the places I used to hang out, the swimming pool I used to go to now is a hole in the ground. Ah, there's, there's nothing left. It's like a war zone. And, I think, I don't think I've ever quite gotten over that.
I think that's probably true for a lot of people. It's like being a refugee in your own state. The, the positive side of it, though, is that I have been able to stay in West Virginia. A lot of people haven't. I've left and come back. Ah. --
Q: We'll pick that up. Just for editing purposes,
would you give me just a paragraph, a little bit more
detailed, that starts "when I was thirteen, my father
lost his job and we lost our house," and describe to me
that a little bit more. You made the end point.
DG: When I was thirteen, my father's coal company, ah, was sold to another company and they brought their own people in and my father lost his job. And, we lost our houses, as well. We didn't own our house. Ah, --
Q: OK. We'll get that at the start of the next magazine. Just a few seconds. What I really want if "when I was thirteen."
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY FILM PROJECT,
MAY 6, SOUND ROLL 135, DENISE GIARDINA
GIARDINA, TAKE 9, ROLL 299, SOUND 135.
Q: Denise, tell me what happened when you
DG: When I was thirteen, the coal company that my father worked for was sold to another company and my father lost his job. And, we lost our house and had to move away from the place I'd grown up.
Q: What is, tell me about the experiences so
many West Virginians had in the 1950's of having to
leave their homes.
DG: Well, you, when you leave you know your life is never going to be the same again. There are losses that you can never make up for. Ah, extended family is so important in West Virginia, still is I think. And, where I grew up, I had cousins who were like brothers and sisters to me. They were six of us, altogether, and we spent all our time together. And, when we moved, two of us left and four stayed behind. And, it was splitting up brothers and sisters. And, even though we stay in touch now, it's never been quite the same as it was. Ah, and I still feel that sense of loss. Ah, and, the, to have neighbors who knew you almost as well as your parents did and to have aunts and uncles close by. Ah, it was like being a refugee. Ah, and I still feel that loss to this day. I think one reason I am a writer is that I keep trying to sort of recreate that, that, the things I've lost.
Q: What, do you think, that dislocation, that
economic dislocation did to the people in West
DG: I think, economic.
Q: What was produced by, with the class of coal
industry? What did it do to the spirit of West
Virginians when all, whole batches of communities
started moving to Detroit, Cleveland?
DG: When, as far as, ah, West Virginians, as a whole, I think, ah, so many people have seen their communities just ripped apart. It's like losing, you know, part of your limbs, one of your limbs. Ah, it's not just that you lose your family, even, but, ah, your whole neighborhood goes. Your whole town, in some cases, disappears. Ah, and, and you have to, ah, go to an environment that, ah, not only is strange to you, but, in many cases, for people who moved out-of-state, it was an environment that was openly hostile. Where neighbors didn't want you there. Where neighbors made fun of you. Where, when you went to school, the other children made fun of you. Made fun of the way you talked and, and, where you were from and the whole self-esteem that a person has, I think, and a sense of being grounded someplace where you can be yourself and be comfortable, ah, which is one of the things I love so much about West Virginia is that it is so easy to be accepted here and to feel like you can be yourself and not have to put on "airs" and not be pretentious. And, then to go to a place where that's not true and where you are judged by your clothes or by your accent, or whatever, it's really hard on anybody. No matter what their economic class, too, by the way, I think that's true for poor West Virginians who left and is also true for, for middle class West Virginians who left as well.
Q: In early 1970's, an artificial dam broke in
Buffalo Creek, killed thirty some people. Tell me
about your personal reaction to that.
DG: I heard about the Buffalo Creek dam break when I was in college. And, ah, I was sort of feeling away from home for that reason. But, I also, I'll never forget, ah, when I heard the news, ah, it was at night and, ah, there was this sort of eerie sky and I was walking along thinking about what I had heard and, ah, imagining, even though I grew up in a county nearby but not the same county and not on Buffalo Creek, I could imagine the same thing happening on the holler where I had grown up. Because there was the same kind of dam at the head of that holler, like many other hollers, and something changed, I think, for me as I read about it and the company response and began to realize the responsibility that the company had had in what happened. All the things I had known about, the, the lack of caring for the people and the land that the coal companies had exhibited and that I had seen when I was a child became much more clear. It just, I just realized that they didn't care. They not only didn't care about miners, they didn't care about women or children. They didn't care about anybody, ah, as long as they were making their money. And, I think that event did for me what the Vietnam War did for a lot of people my age. It changed me and politicized me, ah, in a way that, ah, I was never the same person afterward. Even though I wasn't there, ah, I could imagine being there.
Q: Why do you think West Virginians continue
to have such an attachment to a place where many of
them can't afford to stay?
DG: I think there are several reasons. And, I think one has to do with family. That people still do have family here and, and, it still is the place where families try to hold on and stay together. Ah, and, that support system that a family is.
Q: Can you start with "West Virginia is the kind
DG: West Virginia is the kind of place that people try to stay in as long as they can and they miss it when they leave and they come back whenever they get a chance. Ah, because, ah I think, partly because of family, because this is a place where families are and, and the whole support system that a family gives you. Ah, but I think it goes beyond that, too. I think part of it has to do with the land itself and the landscape and the way the mountains just kind of burn theirself into your heart, or whatever. Ah, but also, ah, I don't think West Virginians like any other place. And, I have lived in other states. And, we are not really like the south and we are not like the north and we are not like the east or the mid-west. Ah, we are not even like other parts of Appalachia. If you go to North Carolina or Georgia or someplace, there's no place quite like West Virginia. And, I've never felt comfortable, totally, any other place. Ah, the way I do here. I've never felt accepted the way I do here. And, ah, I think we have to be our own place, so to speak. Ah, our own, I think that is why people are so attached, ah, it's sort of us against the world, in a way, because we are all we have.
Q: You kind of flew over that statement. I want
you to take a piece of that and elaborate more. The
statement you said about the mountains burn
themselves into your heart.
Q: You flew over that, that's a beautiful phrase.
Tell me about it.
DG: I think I first became aware of it, that, ah, I think the mountains burn themself into the psyche, somehow, or the heart or the soul of people from this place. Ah, I first realized it, I think, when I went to study for a semester in England. It's the first time I had ever been away from West Virginia for more than a week. And, I was gone for three months. And, at the end of it, I was so homesick, ah, and I could shut my eyes and imagine mountains and I could almost feel mountains inside of me. It's like this ache, ah, and, you know, to not have them around. And, ah, why am I getting teary all of the sudden.
Q: That's OK. This is an emotional part for a lot
DG: I remember flying back in, ah, to Charleston.
Q: Do you want to take a pause?
DG: Yea. I don't want, this is weird. I never expected this.
Q: OK. I don't want you to loose the emotion,
but I want you to feel comfortable. That's OK. Let
me ask this question at the end. And, I mean, this is
why we are making this film.
Q: Cause there is this, I mean, I can't wait to see the ratings on this film. I should be 101% of the households because of this. You can keep your composure, but don't loose your emotion.
TAKE 10, ALL RIGHT? I DIDN'T ALREADY CHANGE THIS.
DG: I'll try.
Q: Just give us this last paragraph.
GIARDINA, TAKE 10.
Q: Hold it. We are waiting for the cat.
DG: While you are waiting for the cat, ah, do I need to say something about being in England, again?
Q: I want to get to the essence of it.
DG: OK. That is one pissed cat. Floey, be quiet.
Q: OK. Tell me --
DG: I thought it would help, but it didn't.
Q: I think when she hears your voice.
DG: Oh, I thought that might help, but it didn't. I thought she might think I was --
Q: She has actually been quite good. She ?? a
little bit and then she goes.
DG: There is actually two of them, too. One of them, it's probably one of them that doing it. WE'RE ROLLING?
Q: No, we cut.
DG: When I flew back from England, after being away for several months and saw, ah, looked out the window of that airplane and saw those mountains, ah, I just started to cry. I, you know, let me stop here. Did you want me to repeat what I said about the mountains, ah.
Q: Just tell me what you want to tell me.
DG: Flying over those mountains for the first time, after being away and, ah, missing them so much, and, I just began to cry. I looked out the window and you could see, as I was flying into Charleston, I could see, ah, peak after peak, and the fog was starting to lift at that point and, and, it's like what I had been missing, a piece of me had been missing, was back in place. And, ah, I've never, ah, I don't think I've lost that feeling whenever I leave and come back. It's always there. There's a sense, I'm back again. I'm home.
Q: Start it with "I was away for a time and I
DG: The first time I was away from the mountains for any length of time was when I was a student and I went to England.
Q: Let me interrupt. Just pick it up "when I
came back after being away."
DG: OK. When I came back to West Virginia, after being away for three months, I flew in over the state, and landed at the airport in Charleston. And, coming in, ah, I was just glued to the window and as I looked out, I just, you could see peak after peak of mountains, ah, and the fog and, ah, I just began to cry. What was that?
Q: We just ran out of film.
DG: Oh. I don't think I was doing that very well, anyway. I don't think.
[END OF GIARDINA INTERVIEW]