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  2. Red Necks and Red Bandanas
  4. Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936
  6. Patrick Huber
  9. "They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning, Harry Sims his name was. . . . That deputy knew his business. He didn't give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach. We need some shooting like that down here in Pineville." So Malcolm
  10. Cowley, writing in The New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal oper ator's response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky (1932:70). The contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners, especially those who hold conservative, reactionary or racist points of view (Huber 1995:146 48). During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was "a Communist." And during the first four decades of the twentieth century, redneck also
  11. referred more broadly to a miner who was a member of a labor union, particularly to one who was on strike. This last, now-obsolete meaning of the word provides insight into how local leaders and organizers of the United Mine Workers used language and symbols to foster union solidarity among racially and ethnically divided miners.
  13. The following essay explores how the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) and rival miners' unions appropriated both the term redneck and its literal manifestation, the red bandana, in order to build multiracial unions of white, black, and immigrant miners in the strike ridden coalfields of northern and central Appalachia between 1912 and 1936. The origin of redneck to mean "a union man" or "a striker"
  14. remain uncertain, but according to linguist David W. Maurer, the former
  15. Western Folklore 65:1&2 (Winter & Spring 2006): 195-210.
  18. definition of the word probably dates at least to the second decade of the twentieth century, if not earlier (1936:19). The use of redneck to designate "a union member" was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania, where the word came to be specifically applied to a miner who belonged to a labor union. For example, the term can be found throughout McAllister Coleman and Stephen Raushenbush's 1936 socialist proletarian novel, Red Neck, which recounts the story of a charismatic union leader named Dave Houston and an unsuccessful strike by his fellow union miners in the fictional coalfield town of Laurel, Pennsylvania (1936:151, 155, 246, 304).
  20. The word's varied usage can be seen in the following two examples from the book. "I'm not much to be proud of," Houston admits to his admiring girlfriend Madge in one scene. "I'm just a red necked miner like the rest" (ibid.155). In another scene, a police captain curses Houston as a "God-damned red neck" during a fruitless jailhouse interrogation, before savagely beating him with a sawed-off chair-leg (ibid. 304).
  22. As far as can be determined, the earliest printed uses of the word red neck in a coal-mining context date from the 1912-1913 Paint and Cabin Creeks strike in southern West Virginia and from the 1913-1914 Trinidad District strike in southern Colorado.1 But it remains unclear whether the term originated in the Appalachian coalfields, the Rocky Mountain coal fields, or elsewhere. UMW national organizers quite possibly transported redneck from one section of the country to the other. Then again, its popularizers may have been agents of the Baldwin-Feltz Detective Agency, an industrial espionage and mine security company headquartered in Bluefield, West Virginia, who worked as company guards and spies in both the West Virginia and the Colorado strikes.
  24. What is relatively cer tain, however, is that it originated as an epithet. Apparently, coal opera tors, company guards, non-union miners, and strikebreakers were among the first to use the redneck in a labor context when they derided union miners with the slur. According to industrial folklorist George Korson, non-union miners derisively called strikers "rednecks" in the Appalachian coalfields, while slurring them as "sweaters" in Oklahoma and the south western coalfields (1933:327). It is possible that redneck emerged in strike ridden coalfields to mean "union miner" independently of its pejorative usage in Mississippi and other states of the Deep South as a synonym for
  25. cracker, hoosier, peckerwood, and poor white trash.
  27. Clearly, the best explanation of redneck to mean "union man" is that the word refers to the red handkerchiefs that striking union coal  miners in both southern West Virginia and southern Colorado often wore around their necks or arms as a part of their informal uniform.2 The June 1914 issue of The Masses, for example, contains a Catholic priest's account of the labor unrest in the Trinidad District of south ern Colorado: "For eight days it was a reign of terror. Armed miners swarmed into the city like soldiers of a revolution. They tramped the streets with rifles, and red handkerchiefs around their necks, singing their war songs" (Eastman 1914:5).
  29. Thus, the epithet redneck, in a coal mining context, usually referred to the red bandanas that striking miners sometimes wore knotted about their necks and not to sunburned necks, the conspicuous physical feature for which poor white southerners, who worked long days in the fields, were so infamously named (Roebuck and Hickson 1982:3). It cannot be entirely discounted, however, that redneck, as a term of contempt for organized coal miners and gun thugs, derided both their union membership and their poor whiteness, since so many West Virginia and Kentucky miners were former or part-time farmers from the surrounding rural districts. Thus, in the mouths of coal opera tors, the epithet could have been doubly expressive of contempt.
  31. But union coal miners did not accept this imposed slur without a fight. Instead, they defiantly claimed and redefined redneck for them selves, proudly adopting it, along with red handkerchiefs, as badges of a distinctly masculine, working-class identity and solidarity. During the 1910s and 1920s, organized miners referred to themselves proudly as "rednecks" to distinguish themselves from the despised strikebreak ers, sometimes called "blacklegs" and, of course, more often, "scabs" (Korson 1943:326). For these organized miners, redneck was not an epi thet but rather an honorable nickname for "a union man" who fought for better wages and working conditions alongside his fellow unionists. Although this definition of the word is now almost obsolete, union coal miners' adaptation of redneck speaks powerfully to the fluidity and multi ple meanings of words and to how those meanings are socially contested and interpreted differently by different people.
  36. To understand how and why class-conscious coal miners appropri
  37. ated redneck in the union-busting coalfields of northern and central Appalachia during the early twentieth century, we must not lose sight of the serious obstacles that confronted these miners in their efforts to forge multiracial unions. Most class-conscious miners in these regions joined the United Mine Workers, whose mission was to organize all of the nation's miners regardless of "race, creed, or nationality." Formed in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, by the merger of two miners' unions, the UMW rapidly expanded to become the largest union in the American Federation of Labor (AFL), with 300,000 members by 1905. In 1920, when John L. Lewis assumed its presidency, the union counted nearly half a million miners among its ranks (Buhle, Buhle, and Georgakas 1990:808).
  39. However, the phenomenal growth of the UMW between 1890 and World War I obscures the serious challenges the union faced in its mission to organize workers in the nation's expansive network of coal fields. As Herbert Gutman, David Corbin, Joe William Trotter, and other labor historians have noted, the UMW found its organizing efforts were often thwarted by the remarkably heterogeneous composition of the coal industry's workforce in northern and central Appalachia (a region encompassing western Pennsylvania, southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and northeastern Tennessee) (Gutman 1976:121-208; Corbin 1981; Lewis 1987; Trotter 1990).3
  41. By 1900, the increased importation and employment of sizable num bers of black southerners and southern and eastern Europe immigrants had radically altered the face of an occupation traditionally dominated by English, Welsh, Irish, and native-born white miners. In 1900, for
  42. example, Pennsylvania mines employed 180,474 workers, comprised of 73,013 whites and 1,616 blacks, as well as 105,845 immigrants pre dominantly of Hungarian, British, Irish, German, Italian, and Polish descent.
  44. A total of 20,797 miners worked in the more recently opened West Virginia coal fields, including 13,209 whites, 4,620 blacks, and 2,968 immigrants of British, Hungarian, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, and Russian descent. Additionally, a significant number of those miners identified as "native white" in the census were actually only first-genera tion Americans; in Pennsylvania, for example, slightly more than half of the U.S.-born white miners listed in the 1900 census claimed at least one foreign-born parent (U.S. Census 1904, 374-75, 412-13).
  46. Thus, as Herbert Gutman has noted, UMW organizers faced the difficult task of building cohesive coalitions among peoples who possessed different tra ditional cultures, social customs, religious beliefs, and native languages. The racism of many white miners, as well as the fervent nationalism of many southern and eastern European immigrants, particularly after the outbreak of World War I, exacerbated the difficulty of creating cohesive unions (Gutman 1976:124, 172-73).
  48. Moreover, coal operators consciously tried to retard unionization efforts by adopting employment practices deliberately designed to accentuate the racial and ethnic differences of miners. Coal operators in the eastern and midwestern fields employed black southerners?as well as Italians, Hungarians, and Poles?as strikebreakers against UMW led strikes specifically to fuel existing racial and ethnic tensions among miners. In 1895, for example, officials at a Pocahontas, Virginia, coal mine recruited 400 Italians from northeastern cities to work its struck mine under the protection of state troops (Woodward 1951:268).
  50. West Virginia coal companies, in another example, actively recruited black laborers from Virginia and the Carolinas not only because of the short age of local white miners but also, as historian Ronald D. Eller writes, to purposefully create what coal operators called a "'judicious mixture' of whites, blacks, and immigrants, in order to forestall unionization by segregating the men and playing one group off against another"
  51. (1982:171).
  53. As one coal operator explained in 1933, "(We) get the best results where one class (of miners) is looked [down] upon by the others and try to get advantage of the other class in the way of good places and responsible positions which pay more money." Hiring a "judicious mix ture" of competing racial and ethnic groups, coal operators believed, would encourage native-born white miners to identify with the racial interests they shared with their employers rather than to identify with the class interests they shared with black and immigrant miners.
  55. Coal companies in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, where state constitu tions contained segregation statutes, further intensified racial and eth nic divisions among miners by segregating the company housing they provided their employees. The company town at Stonega, Virginia, for example, contained enclaves with such revealing nicknames as "Hunk Hollow," "Little Italy," and "Nigger Town" (Lewis 1987:147-48).
  57. Coal companies sought to prevent their workers from organizing through institutionalized employment and housing practices, but their tactics did not end there. Beginning around the Red Scare of 1919 1920, coal operators increasingly resorted to red-baiting in order to discredit the United Mine Workers and its more radical rival unions, some of which, such as the National Miners Union, were actually affili ated with the Communist Party USA. As a result, the epithet redneck began to assume more inflammatory connotations including "anarchist," "Bolshevik," and "Communist" (Lane 1921:83-84, 104).
  59. In November 1931, when Theodore Dreiser and a delegation of writers and journalists visited Harlan and Bell counties in Kentucky during a period of particularly intensive efforts by coal operators and local officials to crush the newly formed, Communist-organized National Miners Union (NMU, formed in Pittsburgh in 1928), the group found redneck in widespread usage as an epithet. Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields, which contained the testimony that Dreiser's investigative committee collected from black-listed miners and their wives, reveals that redneck was variously defined in eastern Kentucky as "a Communist," "an agitator," or "a member of the N.M.U." (1932:94, 108, 109, 293).
  61. "They accuse you of being from Pennsylvania, if you work for the N.M.U. They call you agitators from Pennsylvania. They call you a red neck," declared the wife of a miner who had been arrested by sheriffs deputies, severely beaten, and then run out of Harlan County by hired gunmen because of his union activities (ibid. 109).
  63. Coal operators, company guards, and strikebreakers also employed redneck contemptuously to ridicule those miners who were members of the United Mine Workers or the National Miners Union. And although its derivation in this sense is ambiguous, redneck clearly evoked associations with Red, a well-known colloquialism for "a Communist" or "one with Communist sympathies" (DAS 1967:423). Indeed, one miner told a member of Dreiser's team that the coal opera tors derided NMU members as "Rooshun Red Necks" (Walker 1932:22).
  64. In response, eastern Kentucky miners spun their own common-sense folk etymologies to explain redneck.
  66. One puzzled Harlan County miner, for example, pondering aloud during his speech at a 1931 strike rally,
  67. questioned why the coal operators called the miners "rednecks." "My folks have been in Kentucky for five generations," he remarked, "but one of 'em was a red Cherokee Indian. Maybe that's why I'm a Red"
  68. (Walker 1932:22). Another miner suggested that the name derived from the fact that "the miners were so thin an' poor that if you stood one of 'em up against the sun you'd see red through him" (Dos Passos 1931:66). The coal operator's flagrant allegations that miners were "reds" and "Bolsheviks" provided "the butt of much humor" at strike rallies, according to one journalist who accompanied Dreiser (Walker 1932:22).
  70. In fact, Dreiser's committee discovered that the majority of Harlan and Bell County miners did not know what a Communist was. As Jim Garland, a local miner and NMU organizer, recalled, "People were already calling us names they themselves didn't understand; even some of the working people were calling us the Communist party. If you had at this time said to a group of average mountain men, T'm a Communist,' they more than likely would have answered, T'm a Baptist' or T'm a Mason'" (Garland 1983:152).
  72. Operators also red-baited Garland's stepsister, Aunt Molly Jackson, a miner's wife, midwife, singer, and balladeer whose composition of such protest songs as "I Am a Union Woman" and "Hungry Ragged Blues" won her acclaim as the "poet laureate" of the "Bloody Harlan" County Strike of 1931-1932. Like many of the local miners, she did not under
  73. stand the coal operators' epithet redneck, and it was only after she left Kentucky for New York City in December 1931 that she learned what a Communist was.
  75. In an autobiographical essay written in 1945, Aunt Molly humorously explained her indifferent response to the slur:
  76. The coal operators in Kentucky began to call me a red, and when I asked them what the word "red" meant, they told me a red was a person that went around thru the coal operators camp here, thar, and yander a pulling the coal miners out on strike with their Russian Redneck Propagander, then I told them propergander, or propergoose, that for working the coalminers without paying them for the labor that they had a poor excuse, then I told them, Mr. Coal [operator] call me anything you please blue, green, or red, I aim to see to it that these Kentucky coalmin ers will not dig your coal while their little children are crying and dying for milk and bread (Jackson 1945).47
  78. Aunt Molly Jackson's defiant retort notwithstanding, the union-bust ing coalfields of northern and central Appalachia seemed unlikely places for cohesive, integrated unions and class solidarity to flourish, given the enormous social and political control wielded by the coal com panies, the divisive employment and housing practices they employed to retard labor organizing, and the volatile tensions between miners of various racial and ethnic groups.
  82. One significant and meaningful way in which the UMW and other unions sought to cultivate this fragile multi-racial unionism among white, black, and immigrant miners was their redefinition of the epithet redneck and their adoption of the nickname, along with red handkerchiefs, as badges of union identity and class solidarity. Industrial folklorist George Korson, for example, collected a song titled "Red Necks," which a Pennsylvania miner named Fred Brown composed around 1927 to the tune of the Tin Pan Alley song "Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away."
  84. According to Korson, a miners' quartet introduced the song at a 1927 UMW rally honoring the union's national president John L. Lewis at Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, and it soon became "widely popular" among striking miners in the west ern coalfields of that state (1927:430). The song contrasts the proud miners, identified as "Red Necks," with the despised strikebreakers
  85. known as "scabs." The lyrics, as transcribed by Korson, follow:
  87. Red Necks, keep them scabs away, Red Necks, fight them every day. Now any old time you see a scab passin' by, Now don't hesitate?blacken both of his eyes. Red Necks, don't admit defeat,
  88. Don't give up this fight. We're goin' to win this strike
  89. Things again are goin' to be all right. You've got to keep the scabs away! (Korson 1943:430)
  90. Another mining labor song, "West Virginia Hills," also contrasts
  91. the terms redneck and scab. A Baptist preacher and coal miner named Walter Seacrist wrote the lyrics to this song parody in the early 1930s and set them to the tune of the state's unofficial anthem. The chorus goes:
  93. Over the hills, beautiful hills, There's a union in the West Virginia hills! Tho' o'er scab fields I should roam,
  94. Still I'll dream of happy home, And the Rednecks in the West Virginia Hills (Fowke and Glazer 1960:56-57).
  96. The term redneck as a positive identity marker also appears in Jim Garland's 1932 song "Welcome the Traveler Home." Garland, an NMU miner and organizer, composed the song in early 1932, after he was forced to flee Harlan County, Kentucky, because of indictments against him for criminal syndicalism stemming from his strike organizing activi ties. "I was going back [to Harlan County] after being in the North for a period of three months," he explained. ". . . . I was expectin' to be put in jail, for that reason before going back, I composed this song" (Lomax, Guthrie, and Seeger 1967:172). One of the defiant verses of "Welcome
  97. the Traveler Home" goes:
  99. When I get back to Kentucky,
  100. And I get my .45's on, There'll be another Boston Tea Party
  101. If they try to welcome this red-neck home (Garland 1983:174).
  103. One final example of redneck in song situates the term in southern Colorado. Woody Guthrie's ballad "The Ludlow Massacre," originally released on Asch Records in 1941 on Struggle: Documentary No. 1, com memorates the fierce 14-hour gun battle between a tent colony of striking miners and an armed force of Colorado national guardsmen and company guards on April 20, 1914, which left approximately 33 miners, their wives, and their children dead. One verse follows:
  105. The soldiers jumped us in the wire fence corner; They did not know that we had these guns. And the red-necked miners mowed down these troopers, You should have seen those poor boys run (Greenway 1959, 19).
  106. In redefining the epithet redneck into a term of union pride, union miners fashioned one of the common pieces of their traditional cloth
  107. ing, the red handkerchief, into an important marker of union loyalty and solidarity. The red bandana is one of the oldest symbols of the labor movement in both the United States and Europe, and such neckerchiefs
  108. have long served as a form of protection for railroad men, miners,
  109. roughnecks, cowboys, loggers, and other American workingmen.
  111. For example, locomotive firemen who worked in the cabs near the coal fueled steam engines often wore such handkerchiefs in order to keep red-hot cinders from falling into their shirts. Coal miners likewise often wore the kerchiefs for the purpose of keeping the gritty coal dust off their necks, from falling down their workshirts, and out of their noses and mouths (Green 1997:2; Green 1991).
  112. But for union miners, the red handkerchief transcended its mere utilitarian purposes to become an emblem of union identity that ele vated class and occupational grievances over racial and ethnic divisions.
  114. Union miners cleverly adapted the red bandana, a preexisting symbol of their work, to unite miners of various races and ethnicities. During the 1910s and 1920s, a period of intense union organizing and labor strife in northern and central Appalachian coalfields, striking native-born and immigrant union miners occasionally tied red handkerchiefs around their necks or arms so that fellow union men from nearby mines could readily identify them. In fact, the UMW sometimes even distributed these handkerchiefs to miners during strikes.3
  116. This visual identification marker was critical during shoot-outs with company guards, sheriff's deputies, and state militias, when it was vital for one's survival to distin guish friend from foe. During the famous 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia, for example, a rag-tag army consisting of an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 UMW miners fought a weeklong labor war against an entrenched army of two thousand sheriff's deputies,
  117. company guards, and state militia, before federal troops restored order. Also called "the Red Neck War," this uprising ranks as the largest armed insurrection in American labor history, and during it, thousands of union miners in the "Red Neck army" wore blue bib overalls and red kerchiefs, provided by the UMW, knotted around their necks as their unofficial uniform, while the opposing side distinguished themselves by wearing white neckerchiefs and armbands (Blankenhorn, 1921:288; Phillips 1974:58, 90; Corbin 1981:195, 219; Meador 1981:44, 47, 49; Savage 1986:59, 119; Williams 2005).
  119. It remains unclear to what extent black union miners joined their white counterparts in calling themselves "rednecks," particularly given the word's other negative racial asso ciations during the era. Certainly some of the estimated 3,750 to 5,000 African-American miners who participated in this conflict chose to wear red handkerchiefs as a part of their strike uniform, if only for practi cal, safety purposes. Thus, the red bandana not only protected miners underground from the hazards of coal dust, but also marked, both above and below ground, a group identity and consciousness?another form of protection (Green 1991).
  120. Union coal miners in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania fostered multiracial solidarity through both their
  121. adoption of the nickname "redneck" and their wearing of red ban danas.
  123. This image of unified, class-conscious redneck miners contrasts markedly with the traditional image of the politically unorganized, race-conscious redneck farmers. The term redneck, used to mean a poor, rural white southerner, first emerged sometime in the last decades of the nineteenth century. According to the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), one of its earliest appearances in print dates from 1893, when Hubert A. Shands reported that in Mississippi speech red-neck was used "as a name applied by the better class of people to the poorer [white] inhabitants of the rural districts" (OED2, 13:422).
  125. The compound word redneck, most scholars of the American language agree, originally derived from an allusion to sunburn, and the prevail ing view is that southern planters and the urban middle classes used the epithet to describe those white farmers, sharecroppers, and agri cultural laborers who had sunburned, red necks from working long days in the fields (Roebuck and Hickson 1982:3). Scholars have further speculated that white farmers and sharecroppers in Mississippi, Georgia, and other states of the Deep South first began to be called "rednecks" during Reconstruction when some of them "stubbornly refused to wear the cool, wide-brim straw field hats" favored by black freedmen and instead opted for "sweaty, narrow-brim wool hats" that exposed their necks to sunburn as they worked in the fields (Bowles and Tyson 1989:47).
  127. But unlike these red-necked farmers and sharecroppers, who consciously attempted to distinguish themselves in dress from African Americans during Reconstruction, union miners embraced redneck as a way to undercut, rather than to heighten, racial distinctions during the coalfield wars of the 1910s and 1920s. For striking miners, then, the red handkerchiefs functioned as a display of multiracial union solidarity against the coal-mining operators, hired gun thugs, and National Guard troops, thereby shifting the focus from each striker's race or ethnicity to the unifying symbol of the bandana and their collective interests as workingmen. Of course, the class solidarity symbolized by the red ban danas was grounded in miners' shared experiences as an occupational group and as union members.
  129. And there was a certain occupational logic to this symbolic obliteration of the polarizing issues of race and ethnicity, since all miners emerged from underground with blackened, grimy faces, arms, and hands smeared with coal dust, which obscured their race and made them all of one color. But for union miners, the redefined nickname redneck signified suggested far more than simply union loyalty and class allegiance. As the above songs suggest, union coal miners fashioned around the reclaimed term redneck a distinctly class-conscious masculinity. Organized miners constructed their notions of proper and honorable masculine roles chiefly in opposition to the "unmanly" behavior attributed to company guards and strikebreakers.
  131. Union miners saw themselves as inherently different than the cruel-hearted gun thugs and cowardly scabs, who were cast as class traitors and company toadies?literally, in the miners'
  132. richly descriptive, sexually suggestive language, company sucks and com pany licks who felt no sense of allegiance to their fellow workingmen. Nor were the miners like the money-grubbing coal operators who, they believed, exploited miners' backbreaking labor rather than doing hon est work themselves. Redneck miners, in contrast, demonstrated their manhood by providing for their wives and children, collectively siding with the union during strikes, and fighting for their rights as U.S. citi zens.
  134. They refused to kowtow to the coal companies, be intimidated by hired gunmen, or betray fellow strikers by working as scabs. During the Harlan County coalfield war of 1931-1932, Florence Reece, the wife of a NMU miner, captured these gendered distinctions in her famous labor anthem, "Which Side Are You On?" Two verses and the chorus follow:
  136. They say in Harlan County There are no neutrals there; You'll either be a union man
  137. Or a thug for J. H. Blair.
  139. (chorus) Which side are you on? Which side are you on? (repeat)
  141. Oh, workers, can you stand it? Oh tell me how you can. Will you be a lousy scab, Or will you be a man? (Fowke and Glazer 1960:54-55)
  142. For union miners, regardless of race or ethnicity, being called a red neck reinforced their sense of upholding traditionally masculine values, unlike the much-hated, even effeminate, scabs.
  144. In a 1935 American Speech article, David W. Maurer confirmed the suc cess of the union coal miners' efforts to rehabilitate the epithet redneck into a badge of working-class solidarity and pride, reporting that one of the contemporary definitions of the term was a person "who belongs to a labor union or sympathizes with union men in a strike (19). Indeed, one Harlan County taxi driver who sympathized with the National Miners Union told novelist John Dos Passos, one of the members of Dreiser's group, in 1931, "[My] neck got so red this summer I reckon its about ready to turn brown" {Harlan Miners Speak 1932, 293). One can interpret his statement simply and straightforwardly as a commonplace and insig nificant comment on his sunburn. But given what we know about the usage of redneck in eastern Kentucky during the early thirties, the state ment indicates a political declaration of working-class allegiance.
  149. The history of the term redneck in the racially and ethnically diverse coalfields of early twentieth-century northern and central Appalachia suggests the potential that existed for multiracial unionism, and at the same time demonstrates once again that words are a powerful force in fostering occupational identities and class consciousness. Despite the heterogeneous composition of the coal mining industry's workforce, the United Mine Workers enjoyed a remarkable degree of success in organiz ing "mixed" unions of black, white, and immigrant miners in southern West Virginia in the early 1920s.
  151. In March 1921, for example, a miner from Mount Claire reported to the United Mine Workers Journal that "we have 150 miners in our local and among them are white and Negro Americans, Horvats, Hungarians, Slavs, Croatians, Italians. We get along well in our local for having so many nationalities and races represented in our membership" (Corbin 1981:77). Later that year, the white presi dent of another one of the state's UMW locals sent an enthusiastic letter to the journal recounting the union's interracial solidarity during a recent successful strike. "So brothers," he concluded, "you can call [us] . . . Negroes, or whites or mixed. I call it a dam solid mass of different colors and tribes blended together, woven, bound, interlocked, tongued and grooved and glued together in one body" (Corbin 1981:77).
  153. Confronted with the red-baiting and racially divisive tactics practiced by coal operators, local and state officials, and strikebreakers, organized miners in West Virginia and Kentucky reacted pragmatically by redefin ing the epithet redneck rather than ignoring it or seeking to replace it. Often illiterate and with little formal education, miners clearly recog nized the power of spoken words and songs in their daily lives (Huber 1992:140-42).
  155. They appropriated and redefined language in their union struggles because the spoken word was one of just a few devices available to them?short of rifles and brickbats?with which they could defend their distinctive working-class institutions and folkways. And their pointed redefinition of redneck to mean a proud and defiant "union man" signaled an emerging sense of class consciousness, occupational resistance, and multiracial solidarity. In effect, their reformulation of
  156. the term sought to counter the coal companies' anti-union tactics and to
  158. foster class solidarity among white, black, and immigrant miners, begin ning at the basic level of language.
  159. But clearly the multiracial unionism symbolized by redneck and the red bandana had its limits. Although some white coal miners did join racially and ethnically inclusive labor unions, these men were at the same time constantly pulled toward identification with their whiteness and, ultimately, a self-defeating racism. Persistent pressure on white miners to prize their racial identity more than class solidarity consis tently undermined the cohesiveness of these organizations. It would be a mistake, then, to see white miners as invariably choosing to identify steadily with either racial or class solidarity. Despite sporadic episodes of multiracial and multiethnic cooperation, however, the history of the American labor movement, especially in the American South, has clearly been one of overwhelming racism (Roediger 1994:134?39).
  161. As C. Vann Woodward has observed, southern white workers in the textile, railroad,
  162. and other industries staged at least 50 "hate strikes" between 1882 and 1900 to protest the employment of black workers in any but the dirti est, lowest-paying and most physically difficult jobs (1951:222). Given this tragic history, then, coal miners' reformulation of redneck and their modest success with multiracial unionism in southern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania is all the more remarkable. Their redefinition of the epithet redneck into an emblem of union identity and class solidarity also reminds us that workers' struggles for better lives have been fought on many fronts, not the least of which has been the day-to-day level of name-calling and insults, and that in their struggles on this level, the personal truly has been political.
  168. NOTES
  169. This article draws heavily upon the late Peter Tamony's rich research files on red
  170. neck housed in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I thank for critical reading, encouragement, and suggestions, Kate Drowne, David Roediger, Archie Green, Robert McCarl, Susan Porter Benson, Elaine J. Lawless, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Leon Fink, Daniel Patterson, Steven L. Fisher, Connie C. Eble, David A. Corbin, Ivan
  171. Tribe, Abra Quinn, Karen Hayes, Randy Roberts, Andrew Arnold, David M. Anderson, Freda Williams, Elaine Purkey, Martin Halpern, Stephen Myer, Lisa Yarger, Midge Huber, and the late Paul A. Huber. An early version of
  172. this article titled "Redneck: A Short Note From American Labor History" appeared in American Speech 69 (Spring 1994):106-10. 1. On rednecks usage in the 1912-1913 southern West Virginia strikes, see, for example, Merrick 1913, 19, 20, 21; and Mooney 1967, 31, 33, 95, 114, 117; for examples from the 1913-1914 southern Colorado strike, see Fink 1914, 85, 86; and Papanikolas 1982, 92, 225, 227, 243. The usage of redneck as an epithet appears more complicated, however, at least in the West Virginia strikes. Not only did coal operators and company guards deride the striking union miners as "rednecks," but, according to Fred Mooney, who served as secretary-treasurer of UMW District 17 in West Virginia from 1917 to 1924, the union miners also used the epithet to ridicule strikebreakers. J. W. Hess, in his brief annotations to Mooney's autobiography, explains: "Guards called miners Red Necks and strikes called strike breakers Red Necks" (168, n. 4).
  173. 2. On redneck's probable derivation from striking miners' custom of wearing red handkerchiefs, see Colorado Labor Forum 1988, 49; Lee 1969, 98-99; Phillips 1974, 90; Meador 1981, 47; Papanikolas 1982, 92. 3. Williams 2005. As late as the 1989, the UMW continued to use and distrib
  174. ute the symbolic red handkerchiefs to coal miners during strikes. In West Virginia, for example, during the 11-month strike against the Pittston Coal Company in 1989 and 1990, Elaine Purkey (2005), a miner's wife, union balladeer, and grassroots activist, recalled that the union distributed red handkerchiefs to striking miners as a historical symbol of the union's tradi tions, and the miners and their family members wore them at strike rallies and on picket lines.
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