Source: WV History Film Project
WEST VIRGINIA, ROLL 143, WEST
VIRGINIA, ROLL 143.
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 1, CAMERA 311, SOUND 143.
JT: I think one of the key.
Q: I'll ask the question.
JT: Oh. Alright. I thought you wanted me to go.
Q: That's alright. Just sit up. Tell me about the
early coal operators and their perspective on their
position, on their struggle.
JT: Well, I think the coal operators' perspective in the late 19, beginning in the late nineteenth century and going down to the Great Depression. The perspective was that they were involved in a War. They saw a great conspiracy working against them. A conspiracy of the United Mine Workers and of the coal operators in Pennsylvania and Ohio. West Virginia coal had no home market. And, so the coal operators of West Virginia saw themselves in a desperate struggle, because they felt that if they were organized by the United Mine Workers, which they felt coal operators in other states were trying to encourage, and, in fact, they were trying to encourage. But, they felt if they were organized, they couldn't continue to compete with these coal producers in other states that were nearer the markets.
So, I think, they convinced themselves, it was kind of a paranoia really, but, they convinced themselves that were in a struggle for survival. In this perspective of a coal operator colored everything they did, and I think it really effected a lot that happened in the whole state during that period. That whole period roughly 1897 to 1933. They were determined not to have a Union, a coal miners Union, the United Mine Workers, or any other Union and there were others that tried to come in from time to time. They were determined that they weren't going to have them, that they couldn't have them. And, it became almost a patriotic sort of thing and they convinced other people who were not coal operators, other people in the middle class in West Virginia, in both political parties, that this was essential, that they could not allow the United Mine Workers to operate in their region, in West Virginia.
So, it colored a lot of things they did. It colored what they did in their coal towns. They set up systems of security that were extreme, systems that, you know as we look back, we say "in America they had this sort of thing where they had armed guards, they set-up towers with machine guns on them." All of this, in the name of this war that they were fighting and they really convinced themselves. It was a war they were in and it was a patriotic duty to do these kinds of things.
Q: Tell me what it was that the Union
represented that was so threatening.
JT: Well, what the Union threat, as they saw it , was that it was going to raise the cost of operation. They felt they would have to pay higher wages to Union workers, an element that they couldn't control would come into the picture. The wanted order and this was part of their way of, of seeing that there was order in their operation. And, it was an economic thing. A business consideration. They saw this as a potential rise in cost of production, if they had to deal with, with the Union. They saw themselves as having, as being in, as being in a difficult situation, because they had to ship to markets that were far from where they produced. The other operators in Ohio and in Pennsylvania, had short hauls to their markets. As a matter of fact, though, the West Virginia operators had advantages that the other operators didn't have. In southern West Virginia, they produced a kind of coal that was particularly valued in the, in the production of metallurgic coal items and, so, really, they had an advantage.
They, also, had an advantage in the way they produced their coal. Producing it in the beginning, mostly from drift mines, which were high on the mountains, so they had the force of gravity working for them, rather against them. They could, handling the coal, using the force of gravity, actually, was advantageous. In other, in Pennsylvania many of the mines were mines that were deep underground and they didn't have that, they had gravity working against them. A lot of the West Virginia mines is drift mines rather than shaft mines, an economic advantage. Another economic advantage West Virginia mines had was that they were located in a place where they could take advantage of shipping to the lake markets and shipping to the eastern markets. And, shipping to the eastern markets, they also had the advantage of gravity. Particularly after the Virginian railroad came into southern West Virginia.
It was built as an all-gravity road. And, it would run strictly by gravity down to Tidewater, where coal then could be shipped to eastern ports. so, I think they had economic advantages, despite the fact that they saw themselves in this embattled position, distant from markets, where they had to engage in this warfare, really.
Q: Getting back to the company towns, tell,
describe to me the kinds of additional security
measures that they were taking, including the hiring
of constables in elections and, if you can, mention the
case of Justice Collin.
JT: Because of this conspiratorial situation that they saw themselves in, this conspiracy operating against them, operators in the other states and the United Mine Workers joining against them in this destructive conspiracy, they believed that it was necessary to, to set up systems of local security that were, you know, from our perspective today, rather amazing. They used armed guards. They hired an organization, often this was carried out by the Baldwin Felts Detective Organization, which offered this service to the mine operators. And, mine operators, like Justus Collins, would, one of the first things Justus Collins would do when he set-up an operation in an area, would be to call the other coal operators together and say "we have to organize to be sure that we are not going to have Union organizers coming in here, we have to organize, we have to hire Baldwin Felts, we have to arm our camps."
JJKA 0595 In some cases this went so far as setting-up towers with machine guns on them that could scan the whole area with flood lights on them so they could be sure nobody could sneak in at night. It became quite elaborate, at times. And, moreover, they sought to control the local government in McDowell County, for example. As late as the 1930's, most of the members of the County Court were coal operators. And, of course, they could control the local situation. They had a system of constables in many of the coal counties where these constables, on election day, would go about and hand-out the list of who you were supposed to vote for. And, when the constable handed it out, you were, the coal miner and others, were expected to go vote for that list. And, this system of constables, mine guards, of course, existed for a long time, mostly down to the Depression. Although, illegally, after about 1917, I think. The system of constables, also, was illegal. It was driven out of Logan County in the 1920's under the, when Governor Conley was governor. Things got so bad there with gambling and various forms of corruption by the local sheriff's department and coal operators in conjunction, that they cleaned out Logan County. The Attorney General of the State, whose name was Howard Lee, went in and, essentially took over the operation of the sheriff's department. Got rid of all the gambling casinos and did away with the constables.
Q: Let me ask you how, getting to the end of this
Mine War Era, it seems the miners accomplished very
little and that the operators, did manage, through their
techniques, to maintain their position, keep their
competitive edge. It seems like they were
JT: Well, I think the coal operators were successful in maintaining the control which they sought. The system that Justice Collins advocated, worked. They had the mine guards, they had the constables that controlled the county courts, they even, to some extent, controlled politics in the state. So, yes, I think they, they succeeded, pretty much. They succeeded; there were a few times when coal operators, when the Union would have brief success, but, of course, they also had the use of the injunction by the 1920's the Supreme Court had kind of endorsed the idea of using an injunction to keep labor organizers away from properties and they could do that. And, in the 1920's the State was kind of papered with injunctions and this kept the Union out.
Q: Let me ask you another general question.
That is, you mentioned that you felt that coal, because
it was unregulated, that West Virginia had missed
several important opportunities to get a handle on
coal, to utilize it for the betterment of the State. It
missed those opportunities. Can you tell me about
JT: There were, from time to time in the history of the state since it was constituted, missed opportunities when, I think, the state might have seized upon things that came along. That would have, would have improved the situation of this state, in the long run. In the very beginning, and this didn't have a lot to do with coal, but, there was an opportunity early on to adapt a very progressive kind of educational system, advocated by one Gordon Battelle. Failed to do that. The state failed to adopt it and, I think, that was unfortunate. That was one of those missed opportunities. Early in the twentieth century, another missed opportunity was a time when there was an effort to bring about reform in the system of taxation in the state which would had put taxes on coal, gas, and other things that were moved from the soil of the state.
Came very close, but a coalition of business and agricultural interests banded together to defeat that and that was another great missed opportunity, I think. This was early in the twentieth century, so the whole twentieth century, all that coal and the gas that was being removed from the state, could have carried a tax that would have rebounded to the benefit of the citizens of the state. Because that reform failed, that was never to be.
Q: OK. Let's stop. We just ran out of film.
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 2, CAMERA 312, SOUND 144.
Q: Could you tell me about safety in coal
mining? Tell me about the number of men who lost
their lives to coal.
JT: It was an extremely, coal mining was an extremely dangerous occupation. extremely dangerous. You know, coal miners like to gamble. But, they faced the longest odds, not at the gaming tables, but when they went into the mines. It was extremely dangerous. We know the stories of the big explosions and the mega deaths. Like Monongah, 1907, over 300 died. But, I think the fact that sometimes gets lost is that there were many more who died just everyday casual accidents. And a figure that stuns me, is the fact that from 1897 to 1928, ten thousand men died in West Virginia coal mines. Ten thousand. In West Virginia, I'm not talking about the country, I'm talking about West Virginia. That's a stunning fact to me. Now, there were efforts from time to time to do something about the dangers in the coal mines, going back to the 1880's.
A system of mine inspectors was set-up, but it cost money, of course, to run a state system of mine inspectors. And, also, the coal operators were often suspicious of mine inspectors. They thought they could be Union Agents. It all fits into the conspiratorial view that coal operators had. The didn't like any outsiders coming into their operation and telling them what to do and mine inspectors often did. So, the state system was not a very effective system. But, I think, it was a problem, not just in West Virginia, but nationally and internationally. There were problems in coal mining. The reasons for these explosions were imperfectly understood. I think they didn't understand well, that when they mechanized mines, when they started using cutting machines, it created more dust in the air and the dust, itself, could be explosive.
Q: Alright. We have a battery.
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 3.
Q: Jerry, tell me, rather briefly, a few of the
reasons why coal mines became so unsafe and how
operators didn't recognize that.
JT: How they became?
Q: So unsafe. You said mechanization was one
of them and, then tell me the case of Justus Collins'
perspective on mine inspectors.
JT: Both the state of West Virginia and the Federal Government, around 1907, at the time of the Monongah explosion, began to investigate more seriously than they had ever done before, just what was causing the terrible explosions that Monongah is such a tremendous symbol of. They discovered, for one thing, that coal dust in the air with mines being worked on more by machinery, there was much more coal dust generated. So, it wasn't just a matter of gaseous mines, they knew gaseous mines could explode, but now they found out that, also, coal dust in the air could be a source of explosions. But, there were those who had conspiratorial views even of the explosions. When they were investigating the causes of the explosions in West Virginia, Justus Collins, one of the leading southern West Virginia coal operators, said that he believed that the United Mine Workers was responsible, trying to reflect badly on the coal operators by having their mines explode. He thought that the United Mine Workers, or at least he said he thought this, that the United Mine Workers actually sent agents into the coal fields to, to cause these explosions to occur.
And, he urged that investigations be undertaken of the United Mine Workers, on this basis, that they were actually sending agents out to blow-up the mines. I think this is an excellent example of the extent to which coal operators could become paranoid. And, this whole competition that they were having with the United Mine Workers and the coal operators of other states.
Q: OK. Good. I think that does a nice number
on coal for us. Let's leap ahead into the 1920's.
World War I comes and goes, coal rises, Mine Wars
come, coal falls. And then, away from the mines, the
towns and farms in West Virginia, automobiles start
to appear, change starts to accelerate. Describe that
JT: In the 1920's, West Virginia was caught up in some of the change that was taking place in the country. It was a decade of great change. We tended to think of the 1920's as an age of laissez faire presidents and laissez faire governors and so on. But, it actually was a decade of tremendous change. In West Virginia, despite the fact that the coal industry and agriculture had their downsides in the '20's, there were things that were going on in which West Virginia was really a part of the change. The coming of the automobile. The State of West Virginia in the 1920'a spent over one hundred thousand, or a hundred million dollars, over a hundred million dollars.
Q: ?? The State of West Virginia.
JT: The State of West Virginia, in the 1920's, spent over a hundred million dollars building roads in this State. And, building roads in this State, was no easy job. This was a tremendous project. A tremendous undertaking and, it's interesting to read about in the old reports, believe it or not, I have read some of the old reports of how they went about this. It's pretty, one of the really big projects in the history of the state, the building of the roads in the State.
Q: What impact did it have?
JT: The building of the roads throughout the State of West Virginia had tremendous impact on local communities. I think it re-oriented, even the way people lived and where people lived. People came down from their mountain homes so they could be closer to the roads. And, they, it really left a lot of houses tumbling down and forgotten, back in the mountains, because people wanted to get closer to the highways which meant they were closer to civilization. So in that way, it had a great impact. The development of a bus system throughout the State. There were tremendous number of bus lines, I discovered, so that people could travel to places where they had never been able to travel before in the State. It, it made the population I think more mobile.
Q: Could you stop for just a second. We have a train.
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 4.
Q: Jerry, describe for me the impact of the
women's movement in the 1920's.
JT: Among the many unexplored topics in West Virginia History of the 1920's, I think it's kind of a terra?? incognito of the whole decade. But, the women's movement, I think had a great impact on the State. And, it seems to me, no coincidence, that closely following upon women's right to vote, the State enacted a number of laws that tended toward the building of a welfare system in the State. They didn't fund these, these things very well. But, they did such things, for example, as permitting, enabling county courts to establish mother's pensions. Now, not a lot of County Courts did it, but some did. And, so you have a system of mother's pensions where you didn't have that before.
Q: What are mother's pensions?
JT: Mother's Pensions, apparently, were aid to mothers with children, dependent mothers with children. Kind of the early version of Aid to Dependent Children. But, the pension, the payment went from the County Court to the mother. And, some counties funded this, not with big bucks, but there was some funding of that. Also, this Legislation, this new welfare oriented kind of Legislation, seems to me to come in the wake of the women's movement, provided for the establishment of local welfare boards. County welfare boards. And, so a lot of the counties in the State proceeded to set-up county welfare boards. They weren't funded; this was strictly voluntary, but the county welfare boards could oversee the Mother's Pension Funds, the county work farms or whatever kinds of institutions of that sort that they had. In that time, of course, anything that existed along welfare lines was strictly a county operation. There was no State operation. But the State did, another thing that they did, was to, to set-up an organization, a State Organization, it was kind of a forerunner of the Department of Welfare, whose focus was on children. And, they hired a number of agents, all women, to go out into the State to, to see to orphan children. And, they began to, to deal with that. The set-up some State institutions for both white children and Black children, where they could put orphan children.
Q: Let's get on to how life for Blacks in West
Virginia was impacted in the 1920's.
JT: For Blacks in West Virginia in the 1920's, I think, there's a kind of a mixed situation. For one thing, I think should be noted is that the situation for Blacks in West Virginia was better than in some neighboring states and, certainly, better than in Deep South. Blacks could come to West Virginia in the coal fields, they could get jobs in the mining camps. And, in the coal mining counties, particularly in the southern part of the state, where there were substantial numbers of Blacks, they had a political impact. They were, generally, Republican and the Republican Party saw them as an important constituency and because of their political impact, I think they had a certain pull and they could get things. There was a State agency which spoke to the needs of Blacks; there were state institutions which were established which spoke to the needs of the Black citizens of the State. The educational system, though segregated, it was a segregated system, but, apparently, the teachers were hired in that system on the same basis as teachers were hired in the white system.
[NOTHING ELSE TO END OF TAPE.]
[ABRUPT AND UNANNOUNCED END]
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 5, ROLL 313, SOUND 145.
Q: Jerry, tell me about the downside of race
relations in West Virginia.
JT: The downside of race relations, and I think where one has to be careful in claiming exceptionality for West Virginia's race relations --
Q: Hold it, hold it for just a second. Just sit down
in front of the microphone. OK.
JT: The downside of race relations, and I think where one has to be careful about claiming exceptionality for race relations in West Virginia, is the fact that we know the Ku Klux Klan was very active in the State in the 1920's. We, also, know, if we look through the newspapers of the time, that there are many incidents of Black/White violence. So, I think we have to be careful in going too far with this idea that West Virginia was a kind of a special case of race relations.
Q: In 1920's, agriculture comes under pressures,
as does coal. Describe that.
JT: I think in the 1920's both the coal industry and agriculture, which were really the main occupations of the people of the State, both of them were entering into crisis stages. The coal industry was finding that it needed fewer and fewer miners. There was a tremendous decrease in the number of miners employed by the coal industry in the State in the 1920's. Moreover, the coal industry throughout the Nation was in decline because the demand that had been generated in wartime, simply wasn't there in the 1920's. So, it was a crisis situation for coal. Moreover, it was a crisis situation in agriculture in the State. The largely, the subsistence agricultural operation of the State, subsistence farms of the State, were facing more and more of a struggle to make it. They needed a certain amount of cash and was becoming more and more difficult to get that cash.
Now, some farmers had left their farms to go to work in the mines. Some of them started working part-time and then they would go to work full-time, which, of course, left their wives and their children at home, working the farms. But, those opportunities were in decline as the number of miners employed by the mines was in decline in the 1920's. Moreover, agriculture was in a pinch in West Virginia because of the increase in the property tax. The property tax was the basis for local government in West Virginia and before the Great Depression, before the New Deal, the load of government, really, was on the local level. And so the burden of taxation on the farmers was growing tremendously in the '20's. And, their sense of what was wrong was property taxes. And, they saw the solution to their problems an end to that heavy taxation.
Q: One of the pleasures that experiences the
Depression conditions, first in the State, are most
severely in the State, is Scotts Run. Tell me about
what Scotts Run was like. What kind of conditions
feed into to create that sort of abject poverty in West
JT: Scotts Run provides kind of a symbol for what went wrong in West Virginia. At Scotts Run, early in the twentieth century and around the time of World War I, great numbers of people were brought in, both people from the mountains, mountaineers, who came down from their farms and people from many different countries came into Scotts Run to mine the coal at the various coal operations along Scotts Run. In time, the Scotts Run companies found difficulty marketing their coal. They found the crisis that, the coal industry, the nation over was finding. They found they had too many miners to mine the coal that they could sell. And so you had a situation where there were great numbers of people kind of captured or stuck in an area. Quakers who came in in 1930 and 1931 and made a study of this situation, not only in Scotts Run but in other places, came to the conclusion that the problem was that there were too many people mining coal. And, that tens of thousands of miners were going to have to be put into something else.
And, so arose the notion, I think, that a solution would be to get the miners back to the land. Or, to get the miners to farming, part-time, and mining, part-time, or farming part-time and manufacturing, part-time. They were, the Quakers, were trying to deal with that situation and one of the things they came up with was the Mountaineer, Craftsman Cooperative, which produced furniture and, for a time at least, was pretty successful in doing that. The Quakers had some good ideas, but they didn't have a lot of money to fund their operation. They came in on an emergency basis. The got into feeding children on Scotts Run and in other places in Appalachia. But, their funds dried-up within a year. But, I think their operations, what they did in Monongalia County and Scotts Run and in other West Virginia and Kentucky counties, provided a kind of a seed bed of ideas that others drew upon during the Great Depression.
Q: Now, after the Church-sponsored missionary
efforts in West Virginia, the Quakers, the Methodists
and others, the Depression hits full scale across the
country and the New Deal is initiated. Describe to
me how Eleanor Roosevelt conceived, got connected
with, and then developed the idea of Arthurdale.
JT: Eleanor Roosevelt became very much interested in West Virginia, and, particularly, in Scotts Run. And, not long after the New Deal came into office and her husband became President of the United States. Eleanor made a trip to Scotts Run. What inspired her to go there to begin with, I'm not, precisely, sure, but I suspect that it was her knowledge of what the Quakers had been doing there. She had contacts with the Quakers, including a man named, Clyde Pickett, who was the head of the Quaker Office in Philadelphia, the American Friends Field Service Operation. And, he may have been the key figure. But, whatever the reason, Eleanor came.
Q: Let's pause for a second. Yea, let's just get
her there and get her. Tell me what she did. Tell me
what Eleanor did.
JT: Eleanor came to Scotts Run and was given a tour of the area and she was shocked at what she saw. She saw people living in conditions that she had never imagined. She saw where most homes had no indoor sanitary facilities, where garbage was out in the open. She saw people who were hungry. People who were unemployed. And, she also saw people who were desperate and advocating extreme measures. She met some Communists on Scotts Run. And, I think her experience on Scotts Run convinced her that she had to do something. And, she talked with people who were involved there, such as Alice Davis, who was a representative of the Quaker Operation there and who became the head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Monongalia County.
And, she made other contacts there. And, out of all this experience, I think she was convinced that what needed to be done was to take these excess people off the land or out of the mines at Scotts Run and find some way to, to give them a livelihood where they could work at something different and get out of this completely dead-end situation that they were in. And, out of that, I think, was born the idea of Arthurdale. Let's take these people and let's put them on the land. Let's let them be farmers. And, if they can't earn enough by farming, let's bring in some manufacturing. Why not have rural manufacturing along with rural agriculture? And, that was the basic idea that inspired Eleanor, I think, to begin the Arthurdale Project.
Q: Was Eleanor, was Arthurdale
JT: Was Arthurdale successful? I think, the short answer to that is "no, it wasn't successful, it didn't do what they had set out to do." It did not create the kind of situation that --
Q: That's unusable sound, right Pat? YEA.
THAT'S. OK. We're getting it. OK.
JT: Arthurdale didn't accomplish what it set out to accomplish. It really didn't meet the goals that had been set for it. It did not take this group of people and set them down and give them a new livelihood in which they had both agriculture and manufacturing. The efforts to bring in manufacturing to Arthurdale, failed. They were never successful in bringing in manufacturing. What manufacturer wanted to go out to a remote location like Arthurdale? It didn't make economic sense. Moreover, the farmland at Arthurdale turned out to be not very good land. They had picked bad land. They did a lot of foolish things. The houses that they brought into Arthurdale were houses that were designed to be used on the beach for summer homes. So, this didn't work out so well. Of course, they did fix them up so that they were suitable. They were also much smaller houses than they should have been for the large families that were being brought in from Scotts Run. But, I think the bottom line in that, economically, it didn't work in the long term. Of course, people moved to Arthurdale and they had nice homes and many of them lived there for many years and there are, probably, people from Arthurdale today, who would say it was a tremendous success. But, as a Government Project, it didn't do what it set out to do and, by about 1946 the Government was selling off the homes to private individuals.
Q: OK. Let's cut. Can you place the, HEAR THAT?
THOMAS INTERVIEW, TAKE 6, CAMERA 314, SOUND 146.
Q: Jerry, tell me about some of the other aspects
of Eleanor did in West Virginia. Just a second. OK.
JT: Eleanor Roosevelt had very wide interests in West Virginia. It wasn't just in Scotts Run and Arthurdale, she was interested, also, in Logan County and, in fact, she would often send private checks, her own checks, to things that she had a special interest in Scotts Run. I've run across letters where people write her to thank, "thank you for the check, we were able to help some child who had, a bad disease, or something." They were able to get a child into the hospital or, she sent private money to help set up a medical clinic in Logan County where Lenore Hickock had told her that there were no decent hospitals or clinics for poor people. So, Eleanor had, an interest beyond just getting programs, government programs, going. Apparently, she visited West Virginia quite often. I ran across one story in a newspaper of --
Q: Let's just pause for a second. Let this truck
go by. Tell us when, Pat. Now? NO. OK? YEA,
WE CAN TRY IT.
JT: I ran across a story in a newspaper where Eleanor was found out driving around in the State, an unannounced visit, and the State Police stopped her and said "Mrs. Roosevelt, can we help you?" and Eleanor said "Oh, no, we're just driving around." Apparently, she enjoyed just kind of driving around the State and looking at different things. But, she came to Scotts Run at least once a year and often more than that. She had a very deep interest in the State of West Virginia.
Q: Describe to me, in the midst of the Great
Depression, the impact, and maybe that's the best way
to say it, of the Jobs Program like the building of the
Hawk's Nest Tunnel and how that jobs creating
program went sour because of a number of factors.
What was Hawk's Nest?
JT: Well, Hawk's Nest was a private operation where they were attempting to drive a tunnel through a mountain, in order to, divert the flow of water in a direction that would be useful for their turbines. And, the difficulty was they were drilling in hard rock, creating tremendous amounts of silica. They had no provision for protecting the safety of the workers in working this silica. So, the result was great numbers of workers came down with silicosis and great numbers of workers died. Many of them were workers who had been brought in from outside the State, many of them were Black workers. And, there seems to have been a concerted effort to cover-up this story and to keep it quiet about just what was going on, in this operation. And, then it was very grim sort of thing, great numbers of people died in it. It was one of the great industrial disasters in the history of this country.
Q: Was it an "act of God" or was it a
JT: Was it an "act of God" or was it a human-made tragedy what happened in Hawk's Nest? That's a good question. And, I think I come down on the side "this was not God's work." I think it was just these companies involved in it thought they could get this job done and get it quickly and they probably didn't have a lot of regard for the people who were being hurt by it.
Q: Tell me about another aspect of the New Deal
which was bringing in WPA writers to every state,
writing guides of the State, and the rather unique
JT: There's another question connected with Hawk's Nest. The novel.
Q: Yea, sports?? novel.
JT: By Hubert Skidmore. Maybe we ought to bring that in, you think?
Q: I think that's sort of off the track, that that was
squelched, as well. Yea, tell me.
JT: In connection with the Hawk's Nest tragedy, there was a novelist, Hubert Skidmore who wrote a novel about it. And, as part of the covering-up of what happened there, they covered-up this novel. They squelched the novel. Kept it from being published.
Q: How many years was it until it was
JT: I don't know.
Q: OK. Can you tell me about the WPA writers
and that whole event, with a guide to the Mountain
JT: One of the projects of the WPA, was this writers project. This was a project put to work of writers and teachers and so on. People who might not get jobs in other kinds of WPA Projects, but were nevertheless unemployed. One of the things that the Writers' Project in West Virginia set out to do was, in cooperation with the Writers' Projects all over the country, was to write a guide to the Mountain State. And, they probably never imagined what they were getting into when they got into this because it became a tremendous controversy with the Governor of the State at the time whose name was Homer Rocky Holt. Governor Holt found the writers' guide to be totally unacceptable and he, even went so far as to write letters to the President of the United States saying that he could not accept this document, he couldn't accept it because of what was in it and he couldn't accept it because of some of the people who were working on it. Chiefly, the chief villain, as he saw it, was a man named Bruce Crawford. Now, Crawford did have a radical background in the early '30's, which he didn't deny. But, he was, simply, the director of this project and the prose and all that was going into the project, was being carefully screened by the National Writers' Project.
JJKB 1617 And, looking at it these days, it's difficult to see why the Governor got so upset about it. But, he was upset about things, for example, there's a classic picture of a coal miner washing himself over a tub, a grimy coal miner, you know, he's washing himself. It's a great shot. The Governor didn't want that picture in the West Virginia Guide. He said "this would make them think we don't have modern plumbing." There was another picture that showed school children, really robust, healthy-looking school children being taken to school in the back of a truck. The Governor said "we don't want this, this would make them think we don't have school buses in West Virginia and we haul our children to school like cattle." So, he had some objections to the book that were, took a paranoia thing. And, indeed, I think it kind of gets back to the old fashioned paranoia that the coal industry had put upon the State for a number of years because the big issue for Holt was, he did not want ANY mention of the struggle of labor in West Virginia.
There was a whole chapter on labor which he wouldn't accept, in any way, shape, or form. He fought tooth and nail to keep it out. He said "this was too radical, you couldn't talk about Mother Jones, you couldn't talk about the big strikes, you couldn't talk about Weirton Steel and the strikes at Weirton Steel." These things were unacceptable in a Book that was supposed to be a guide for the Mountain State. He couldn't buy the idea that labor had a history, too. He didn't want any mention of labor editors, he said "they were a bunch of scalawags and never did anything for anybody, you shouldn't mention them." So, he had a lot of prejudices that came out in his reaction to the Guide and it was a terrible struggle.
In fact, the State Guide was never accepted, the West Virginia Guide of the Mountain State was never accepted by Homer Holt. In the end, they kind of conspired -- Bruce Crawford, I think, and the National Organization, conspired to keep this in cold storage until Homer Holt was out of office. And, then another Democrat of a different stripe, Matthew Mansfield Neeley, was elected Governor in 1940. Neeley was very favorable to the Book and he ordered, in fact, that the chapter on labor be put back in. Of course, Neeley was allied with the labor movement in the State. It was politically important to him. But, he was very favorable to the Guide and so, finally, the Guide, as we know it today, was basically what the Writer's Project wanted to produce.
Q: Let's go down to the whole big, general
picture. What do you think is, makes this such a
distinctive place? What do you think, you're a West
Virginian, what sort of attachment do you have to
JT: What makes West Virginia a distinctive place and what sort of attachment do I have with it? Well, that's a tough question. And, the reason I'm interested in these things, and the reason I've been talking to you about them and have developed some knowledge about them, is, probably, because I am a West Virginian. I grew up in a coal mining town, a town called Glen Rogers. So, some of what I know about it is personal experience. But, I think West Virginia, there is something special about West Virginia. West Virginians have a special feeling for their State where ever they go, I think they always feel that West Virginia is "home." And, I think this may, the feeling West Virginians have for their State, may be unusual. I meet people from other states, and I don't think they have quite the sense of, that West Virginians have about their state. One may wonder why in the world, with all the problems the State has had and all the disasters we've suffered, why we would feel that way. I don't know. Maybe because it has been such a tough experience, we feel sympathetic with our home state. But, there is something special about it.
Q: Cut. OK. We are supposed to be quiet for 30 seconds.