We are grateful to the United Mine Workers of America for providing this selection of dramatic images from their archives.
In his 1946 ballad, writer-musician Merle Travis summoned his memories of life in the Muhlenberg County, Kentucky mines, where his father had worked. The recording of the song by Tennessee Ernie Ford achieved astronomical levels of popularity - 400,000 singles were sold during the first eleven days of its release. Lyrics
The song helped to dramatize the difficult plight of the mine workers. It also helped focus attention on the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which has been fighting since 1890 for a safe workplace, good wages, better conditions and fair representation. The UMWA also produced one of the genuine heroes of the American labor movement in its president, John L. Lewis, founder and leader of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). That organization made labor history during the 1930s and 40s when it organized tens of thousands of unorganized workers - native and foreign-born, men and women and black and white - in the major mass production industries of the nation, including steel, auto and rubber.