Shorpy, the self-proclaimed ?100-Year-Old Photo Blog,? displays images from the ?dawn of photography to the 1940s.? Images like, ?Cutting Crew: 1911,? of child laborers; ?Barber Shop Octet: 1943,? of Japanese-American women in a World War II relocation camp; and ?Brooklyn Bridge: c. 1915.? These photos span the decades and are accompanied by brief explanations, photo credits, and more information when available. The site offers little explanation as to who created it and why it exists, but simply states that it?s a place where people can share their ?own vintage photographs.?
One of the most interesting aspects of the site is its namesake: Shorpy Higginbotham, a ?greaser? who worked in an Alabama coalmine in the early 1900s. If your interest is piqued by this young man, the photo blog links to a site by writer Joe Manning, where readers can find out even more about Shorpy?s history.
While sometimes short on content, the Shorpy photo blog offers an always-interesting glance into America?s past. Besides, who needs text when the pictures speak volumes?
Shorpy Higginbotham, a "greaser" on the tipple at Bessie Mine, of the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Co. Said he was 14 years old, but it is doubtful. Carries two heavy pails of grease, and is often in danger of being run over by the coal cars. Location: Bessie Mine, Alabama, December 1910, Lewis Hine.
I first saw photos of Shorpy Higginbotham on Shorpy.com, a marvelous new website devoted to old photographs, including some by Lewis Hine. They are also posted on the Library of Congress website. The heartbreaking pictures, and the boy's colorful name captured me immediately. I dropped everything and started a search.
It took me only a few minutes of looking through the 1910 US Census to discover that Shorpy's real name was Henry Sharp Higginbotham. A few minutes later, I found his name in a Higginbotham family website posted on RootsWeb.com. This is what I learned:
He was born November 23, 1896, in Jefferson County, Alabama, probably in or near Birmingham. His parents were Phelix (or Felix) Milton Higginbotham and Mary Jane (Nancy) Graham. He had six brothers and three sisters. Felix died in 1917, Mary Jane died in 1946, and one of Henry's brothers, Jack, died in 1920. Henry married Flora Quinton on November 19, 1927, but he died, two months later, on January 25, 1928. There was no further information about him.
Shorpy Higginbotham, a "greaser" on the tipple at Bessie Mine, of the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Co. Said he was 14 years old, but it is doubtful. Carries two heavy pails of grease, and is often in danger of being run over by the coal cars. Location: Bessie Mine, Alabama.
The next day, in the 1930 US Census, I found that Flora had a son, William, born in 1928, but after Henry had died. By the end of the day, I had located him, now 78 years old and living in Alabama. I called him. He was not willing to talk much, but he did tell me that he had no knowledge of the Lewis Hine photos of his father, but that he did have one other photo of him. When I asked him if he knew how his father died, he said, "mining accident." At that point, he courteously asked to end the conversation, and that he wasn't interested in seeing the Hine photos.
Within a week, I had obtained Henry's death certificate, which stated that he had died from injuries caused by being hit by a falling rock. According to a list of Alabama Coal Mine fatalities, Henry's brother Jack also died in a mining accident. Flora married again in 1937, this time to Lester Rivers. She died in 1980.
I also located the daughter of one of Henry's sisters, who told me that Henry was always called Sharp. She knew about Sharp's mining accident. I asked her if she knew how Sharp's father died, and she said, "I heard it was the mumps." She was unwilling to talk anymore after that. She was polite, but just not interested.
Henry Sharp Higginbotham's son married, and his wife died in 1993. In her obituary, no children were listed among the survivors, so it appears that his son was Shorpy's only direct descendant.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Blair Mountain and the National Register of Historic Places
More than 70 people gathered to protest Gov. Manchin?s request that Blair Mountain not be granted federal protection.
On March 30, the National Park Service placed Blair Mountain in Logan County, WV, on the National Register of Historic Places.
The announcement came after decades of campaigning by local residents, historians and conservationists, with help in recent years from OVEC, other groups affiliated with Friends of the Mountains and the Sierra Club.
Blair Mountain is one of the most important labor historic sites in the nation. In 1921, 10,000 people clashed on Blair Mountain as coal miners rose up against coal barons in defense of the right to unionize. The undeclared civil war that followed lasted 10 days and became known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.
This legendary event is now characterized as America?s largest labor struggle. The shooting war pitted union and anti-union forces against one another in the mountains of Logan, WV, and culminated in the arrival of federal troops at the governor?s request.
"National Register designation is a vitally important step in the preservation of Blair Mountain, a site we listed as one of America?s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2006," says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Nevertheless, the threat of coal mining activity at Blair Mountain remains present and we will continue to vigorously oppose mining efforts at the site."
Local residents celebrated the announcement of the listing. "I?m so happy to see the culture and history of Logan County being honored," said Kenny King, a Logan County resident and long-time proponent of the historic listing for Blair Mountain. "The next step is to get local officials to realize the value of putting a local tourism center on Blair Mountain."
Archaeologist Dr. Harvard Ayers and historian Dr. Barbara Rasmussen collaborated on the most recent, successful nomination of Blair Mountain to the National Register of Historic Places. OVEC board member Regina Hendrix has been a leader on this issue for the past 8 years.
Just days after the designation, news reports said Governor Manchin?s administration had written a letter petitioning the Keeper of National Register of Historic Places to delist Blair Mountain.
Friends of the Mountains quickly organized a protest of this action. Moments before the noon protest began, the state issued a press release saying the Governor was not involved in the letter sent to the Keeper and the state did not mean to petition the Keeper for de-listing.
The Charleston Gazette reflected the views of many when the newspaper editorialized that it was hard to believe the Governor knew nothing about what was going on.
On July 6, news came that the Keeper was moving to delist Blair Mountain after reviewing the letter sent from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Watch the OVEC website for the latest information and contact the office at (304) 522-0246 to get involved.
Since his days as WV Secretary of State, Joe Manchin has received nearly 1 million dollars in campaign contributions from the coal industry.
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the result of a generation of social transformation and extreme exploitation in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Beginning in 1870-1880, coal operators had established a system of oppression and exploitation based around the company town system. To maintain their domination and hegemony, coal operators paid "private detectives" as well as public law enforcement agents to ensure that union organizers were kept out of the region. In order to accomplish this objective, agents of the coal operators used intimidation, harassment, espionage and even murder. Throughout the early 20th century, West Virginia coal miners attempted to overthrow this brutal system and engaged in a series of strikes, such as the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike of 1912-1913, and which coal operators attempted to stop through violent means. Mining families lived under the terror of Baldwin-Felts detective agents who were professional strikebreakers under the hire of coal operators. These agents took part in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Mine War, where they drove a heavily armored train called the Bull Moose Special through a tent colony at night, opening fire on women, men and children with a machine gun. They would repeat this type of tactic during the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado the next year, with even more disastrous results.
By 1920, most of West Virginia had been organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The southern coalfields, however, remained non-unionized bastions of coal operator power. In early 1920, UMW president John L. Lewis targeted Mingo County for organizing. Certain aspects of Mingo made it more attractive to union leaders than neighboring Logan County, which was under the control of the vehemently anti-union Sheriff Don Chafin and his deputized army. Mingo?s political structure was more independent, and some politicians were pro-union. Cabell Testerman, the mayor of the independent town of Matewan was one supporter of the union cause. He appointed 27-year-old Sid Hatfield as town sheriff. As a teenager, Hatfield had worked in the coalmines, and was sympathetic to the miners' condition. He also claimed to be a member of the notorious Hatfield family of the Hatfield and McCoy "feud", but was not. These men provided union organizers an opportunity to gain a foothold, and unionizing accelerated rapidly in the county.
In response to the organizing efforts, coal operators used every means to block the union. One of their primary tactics of combating the union was firing union sympathizers, blacklisting them, and evicting them from their homes. Their legal argument for evictions is best stated by S.B. Avis, a coal company lawyer; ?It is like a servant lives at your house. If the servant leaves your employment, if you discharge him, you ask him to get out of the servants? quarters. It is a question of master and servant.? The UMW set up tent colonies for the homeless miner families, and soon a mass of idle and angry miners was concentrated in a small area along the Tug River. Even with the coal operators? suppression, by early May 3,000 out of 4,000 Mingo miners had joined the union. At the Stone Mountain Coal Company mine near Matewan, every single worker unionized, and was subsequently fired and evicted.
On May 19, 1920, 12 Baldwin-Felts agents arrived in Matewan, including Lee Felts, and promptly met up with Albert Felts who was already in the area. Albert and Lee were the brothers of Thomas Felts, the founder and director of the agency. Albert had already been in the area, and had tried to bribe Mayor Testerman with 500 dollars to place machine guns on roofs in the town?which Testerman refused. That afternoon, Albert and Lee along with eleven other men set out to the Stone Mountain Coal Company property. The first family they evicted was a woman and her children, whose husband was not home at the time. They forced them out at gunpoint, and threw their belongings in the road under a light but steady rain. The miners who saw it were furious, and sent word to town.
As the agents walked to the train station to leave town, Sid Hatfield and a group of deputized miners confronted them and told the agents they were under arrest. Albert Felts replied that in fact, he had a warrant for Sid?s arrest. Testerman was alerted, and he ran out into the street after a miner shouted that Sid had been arrested. Hatfield backed into the store, and Testerman asked to see the warrant. After reviewing it, the mayor exclaimed, ?This is a bogus warrant.? With these words, a gunfight erupted and Sid Hatfield shot Albert Felts. Mayor Testerman fell to the ground in the first volley, mortally wounded. In the end, 10 men were killed, including Albert and Lee Felts.
This gunfight became known as the Matewan Massacre, and its symbolic significance was enormous for the miners. The seemingly invincible Baldwin-Felts had been beaten by the miners? own hero, Sid Hatfield. To the miners, Sid became an immediate legend and hero to the union miners, and became a symbol of hope that the oppression of coal operators and their hired guns could be overthrown. Throughout the summer and into the fall of 1920, the union gained strength in Mingo County, as did the resistance of the coal operators. Low intensity warfare was waged up and down the Tug River. In late June, state police under the command of Captain Brockus raided the Lick Creek tent colony near Williamson, West Virginia. Miners were said to have fired on Brockus and Martin?s men from the colony, and in response the state police shot and arrested miners, ripped the canvas tents to shreds, and scattered the mining families? belongings. Both sides were bolstering their arms, and Sid Hatfield continued to be a problem, especially when he converted Testerman?s jewelry store into a gun shop.
On January 26, 1921, the trial of Sid Hatfield for killing Albert Felts began. This trial was in the national spotlight, and it brought much attention to the miners? cause. Hatfield?s stature and mythical status grew as the trial proceeded. Sid Hatfield posed and talked to reporters, fanning the flames of his own stature and legend. All men were acquitted in the end, but overall the union was facing significant setbacks. Eighty percent of mines had reopened with the importation of replacements and the signing of yellow dog contracts by ex-strikers returning to mines. In mid-May 1921, union miners launched a full assault on nonunion mines. In a short time, the conflict had consumed the entire Tug River Valley. This ?Three Days Battle? was finally ended by a flag of truce and the implementation of martial law. The enforcement of martial law was from the beginning decidedly against the striking miners. Miners in the scores and hundreds were arrested without habeas corpus and other basic legal rights. The smallest of infractions could mean imprisonment, while those on the other side of this ?law and order? were immune. The miners responded with guerilla tactics and violence against this oppressive state-sanctioned system.
In the midst of this tense situation, Sid Hatfield traveled to McDowell County on 1 August 1921 to stand trial for charges of dynamiting a coal tipple. Along with him traveled a good friend, Ed Chambers, and their two wives. As they walked up the courthouse stairs, unarmed and flanked by their wives, a group of Baldwin-Felts agents standing at the top of the stairs opened fire. Hatfield was killed instantly, while Chambers' bullet-riddled body rolled to the bottom of the stairs. Over Sally Chambers' protestation, one of the agents ran down the stairs and shot Chambers once more in the back of the head point blank. The miners? hero was dead. As Sid and Ed?s bodies returned to Matewan, word of the slayings spread through the mountains. For the miners, Hatfield was slain in cold blood and it seemed the assassins would escape punishment.
Hatfield?s death enraged the miners, and they began to pour out of the mountains to take arms. Miners along the Little Coal River were among the first to militarize, and began actions such as patrolling and guarding the area. Sheriff Don Chafin sent Logan County troopers to Little Coal River area, with the end result the troopers were apprehended, disarmed, and sent fleeing by the miners. On 7 August 1921, the leaders of the UMW District 17, which encompasses much of southern West Virginia, called a rally at the state capitol in Charleston. These leaders were Frank Keeney and Ed Mooney, who were veterans of previous mine conflicts in the region. Both were local, and were well read and articulate. Keeney and Mooney met with Governor Ephraim Morgan, and presented him with a petition of the miners? demands. Morgan summarily rejected these, and the miners became even more restless. Talk began to spread of a march on Mingo to free the confined miners, end martial law, and organize the county. But directly in the way stood Blair Mountain, Logan County, and Sheriff Don Chafin.
At a rally on August 7, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones called on the miners not to march into Logan and Mingo counties and set up the union by force. Accused by some of losing her nerve, she rightly feared a bloodbath in a battle between lightly armed union forces and the more heavily armed deputies from Logan County. Yet, feeling they had been lied to again by West Virginia's Governor Morgan, armed men began gathering at Lens Creek Mountain, near Marmet in Kanawha County on August 20, where four days later up to 13,000 had gathered and began marching towards Logan County. Impatient to get to the fighting, miners near St. Albans, West Virginia Kanawha County commandeered a Chesapeake and Ohio freight train, renamed by the miners as the 'Blue Steel Special', to meet up with the advanced column of marchers at Danville in Boone County on their way to Bloody Mingo. Meanwhile, the reviled and anti-union Sheriff of Logan County, Don Chafin (1887?1954), had begun to set up defenses on Blair Mountain. Chafin was supported financially by the Logan County Coal Operators Association creating the nation's largest private armed force of nearly 2,000.
The first skirmishes occurred on the morning of August 25. The bulk of the miners were still 15 mi (24 km) away. The following day, President Warren Harding threatened to send in federal troops and Army Martin MB-1 bombers. After a long meeting in the town of Madison, the seat of Boone County, agreements were made convincing the miners to return home. However, the struggle was far from over. After spending days to assemble his private army, Chafin was not going to be denied his battle to end union attempts at organizing Logan County coal mines. Within hours of the Madison decision, reports came in that Sheriff Chafin's men were deliberately shooting union sympathizers in the town of Sharples, West Virginia just north of Blair Mountain?and that families had been caught in crossfire during the skirmishes. Infuriated, the miners turned back towards Blair Mountain, many traveling in other stolen and commandeered trains.
A group of miners display one of the bombs dropped by Chafin's airplanes.
By August 29, battle was fully joined. Chafin's men, though outnumbered, had the advantage of higher positions and better weaponry. Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners. A combination of gas and explosive bombs left over from the fighting in World War I were dropped in several locations near the towns of Jeffery, Sharples and Blair. At least one did not explode and was recovered by the miners; it was used months later to great effect during treason and murder trials following the battle. On orders from the famous General Billy Mitchell, Army bombers from Maryland were also used for aerial surveillance, a rare example of Air Power being used by the federal government against US citizens. One Martin bomber crashed on the return flight, killing the three members of the crew. Sporadic gun battles continued for a week, with the miners at one time nearly breaking through to the town of Logan and their target destinations, the non-unionized counties to the south, Logan and Mingo. Up to 30 deaths were reported by Chafin?s side and 50-100 on the union miners side, with many hundreds more injured. By September 2, federal troops had arrived. Realizing he would lose a lot of good miners if the battle continued with the military, union leader Bill Blizzard passed the word for the miners to start heading home the following day. Miners fearing jail and confiscation of their guns found clever ways to hide rifles and hand guns in the woods before leaving Logan County. Collectors and researchers to this day are still finding weapons and ammunition embedded in old trees and in rock crevices. Thousands of spent and live cartridges have made it into private collections.
Following the battle, 985 miners were indicted for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder, and treason against the State of West Virginia. Though some were acquitted by sympathetic juries, many were also imprisoned for a number of years, though they were paroled in 1925. It would be Bill Blizzard's trial where the unexploded bomb was used as evidence of the government and companies' brutality, and ultimately resulted in his acquittal.
In the short term the battle was an overwhelming victory for management. UMW membership plummeted from more than 50,000 miners to approximately 10,000 over the next several years, and it was not until 1935 ? following the Great Depression and the beginning of the New Deal under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ? that the UMW fully organized in southern West Virginia.
In the long-term, the battle raised awareness of the appalling conditions faced by miners in the dangerous West Virginia coalfields, and led directly to a change in union tactics into political battles to get the law on labor's side via confrontations with recalcitrant and abusive managements and thence to the much larger organized labor victory a few years later during the New Deal in 1933. That in turn led to the UMWA helping organize many better-known unions such as the Steel workers during the mid-thirties.
In the final analysis, management's success was a pyrrhic victory that helped lead to a much larger and stronger organized labor movement in many other industries and labor union affiliations and umbrella organizations like the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The Battle of Blair Mountain was an important part of the labor movement. In April 2008, Blair Mountain was chosen for the list of protected places on the National Register of Historic Places. This decision has been contested by the state of West Virginia, therefore this nomination is currently under review.
The Blair Mountain march, as well as the events leading up to it and those immediately following it, are depicted in the novels Storming Heaven (Denise Giardina, 1987) and Blair Mountain (Jonathan Lynn, 2006). John Sayles' 1987 film Matewan depicts the Matewan Massacre, a small part of the Blair Mountain story. Diane Gilliam Fisher's poetry collection, Kettle Bottom, published by Perugia Press, also focuses on the events of the Battle of Blair Mountain, from the perspective of the miners' families.