Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Edgel Hutchinson, August 6, 1987

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Union organizers / Mine punishments

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Partial Transcript: Okay.

Segment Synopsis: Edgel Hutchinson talks about how many miners in the area joined unions. The mine began to fire people they thought were associated with the unions. The mine would shut off access to water for the people striking. The mine also wouldn’t allow outside guests. Finally, Hutchinson briefly explains the series of events that led to Perry Adkins being killed.

Keywords: Gun thugs; Harassment; Henry Clay mine; Mine thugs; Unions

Subjects: Coal miners--Labor unions; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Ethics; Mining camps; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining--Kentucky

00:10:29 - Memories from mining / Father and grandfather

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Partial Transcript: So you were--you started mining--when did you first start mining?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson says he remembers the day he started mining, May 7th 1932 at Henry Clay Mine. His father was also a coal miner. His father was blacklisted because he joined a union so it was difficult to find a mine that would hire him. Hutchinson's father’s job was to help ventilate the mine. Hutchinson's grandfather came from Wales to ventilate coal mines. He was going to go back to Wales but they paid to bring his family over so he could keep working in America. They used to ventilate the mines by running giant fans but they needed help on how to get fresh air down the mine. Hutchinson said the Welsh had a better system for ventilation because they had been mining longer so that’s why the Americans sent for his grandfather. Hutchinson’s father began working in the mines at only 9 years old. He had no education but could “take a pencil and ventilate a coal mine.” Hutchinson’s father said all the miners were treated worse than the bosses' animals; they did not care for the children. This treatment brought on the labor unions and child labor laws. His father was paid 50 cents a day for outside of the mine work and 80 cents for in the mine work. There were 8 boys in the family and added up with their father they had spent 252 years in the coal mine.

Keywords: Coal camps; Immigrant miners; Mine jobs; Mine ventilation; Mining families

Subjects: Coal miners--Labor unions; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Families; Genealogy--Appalachian Region; Mining camps

00:21:00 - Union meetings / Other coal mines

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Partial Transcript: So who spoke at this meeting?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about the union meeting held at the coal mine. The man who spoke was from Canada. They had unions in Canada years before America. He was the union president and Hutchinson describes him as peaceful and intelligent and caring for his miners. However, he was afraid during the first meeting that he might get shot. He explained what the union wanted to do and passed out membership cards and many people joined. Next, Hutchinson talks about how the mine conditions led people to favor the unions. Things such as: Paying house rent regardless if they lived there, could only use their money in the company store, long hours, lack of privacy. Hutchinson remembers the strike at another mine called Dunleary, around 1935 after the initial strikes at Henry Clay. It was much easier to strike there after Henry Clay strikes.

Keywords: Coal unions; Dunleary Mine; Henry Clay Mine; Labor unions; Union presidents; Wolfpit Mine

Subjects: Coal miners--Labor unions; Coal mines; Coal mines and mining--Safety regulations; Ethics; Mining camps

00:29:59 - Growing up in a coal camp / Strikes

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Partial Transcript: What was it like growing up in a camp?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson says growing up in a coal camp was rough but the people were a lot closer to each other. It was hard to educate the kids or raise a family. You were never able to save money or improve yourself. Hutchinson tells a story about his father buying groceries from Lawrence Ratliff's general store instead of the mine store. When he got caught, the foreman said he could either start using the company store or he could go work at the general store. Hutchinson says he saw tears in his father's eyes as they walked away. Hutchinson says that the miners were in such a desperate position that if the Communist Party were to offer them food and work they would have agreed. Hutchinson remembers going to school for the first time in Dunleary, there was no church in the camp however. Next, Hutchinson talks about moving to the Wolfpit Mine, which he says was one of the most dangerous mines in the country at one point. He says people would die everyday. This was before strip mining and the technique they used to get the coal off the top of the mine would result in slate falls which could injure or kill the miners.

Keywords: Coal camps; Company stores; Mining families; Scrip; Unsafe working conditions

Subjects: Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Ethics.; Mining camps; Salaries; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining--Kentucky

00:40:52 - Immigrant miners / Mine bosses

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Partial Transcript: A lot of people have told me that, that there were a lot of, um, immigrant miners--

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about non-white miners and how the African American miners lived in a different coal company. He says there were no race troubles in the coal mine. Hutchinson says the black miners took more abuse than the white miners, and had the tougher jobs. Next, he talks about how the mines would know if you went on strike and would keep it on record. He explains how his father was involved with a strike and the mine heard and wanted him fired but his superintendent knew he was a good worker and pushed for him to stay. Some people would change their names to escape their records from the coal mines. Next, Hutchinson talks about the bosses' town, which was nicer with better houses. He talks about a mean boss that would work miners for 12 hours a day and would verbally abuse them.

Keywords: Abusive foremen; African American miners; Black miners; Immigrant miners; Mine bosses; Mine foremen

Subjects: Coal miners--Labor unions.; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Ethics; Mining camps; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining

00:48:30 - Strikes / Perry Adkins

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Partial Transcript: So the very next day after this meeting at Greenough, the miners went on strike?

Segment Synopsis: Strikes began at the Henry Clay Mine after miners started to get fired for their association with the union. Hutchinson says that at first everyone would strike but then when the coal company started bringing in gun thugs with big machine guns and searchlights many of the miners called it quits. Hutchinson says that he showed up to the union meeting and was outside when Perry Adkins was killed. Hutchinson says the two gun thugs pulled up to the meeting and asked where Perry Adkins was and the other miners, not knowing what would happen, said he was inside. Then they walked into the meeting at a church and opened fire. He says Perry wasn’t afraid of the mine at all so in turn the mine was afraid of him and had to have Perry killed. Hutchinson says after the shooting more gun thugs arrived and began to arrest the miners and take them away to prison while Perry Adkins was left on a chair to die. When they were taken to jail there was a 1000 dollar bond and most were released that day but the judge was a union sympathizer so he helped out those who couldn't afford the bond. The two men that killed Perry had a trial but the whole court was anti-union and they were acquitted.

Keywords: Coal companies; Coal unions; Gun thugs; Henry Clay coal mine; Labor unions; Mine guards; Strikes

Subjects: Coal miners--Kentucky; Coal miners--Labor unions; Ethics; Mining camps; Picketing; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining

01:01:27 - Working for the union / Safety at the mine

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Partial Transcript: Well now were you, were you an you an organizer for UMW, or?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about how he was a union supporter his whole life but he began to work for the union around 1948. Hutchinson lost his leg in the coal mine in 1943 which made him unable to work at the mine. Hutchinson also lost a finger at Dunleary Mine. He explains how it was against the mine rules to stack steel on the clearance side of the mine. When the leg accident happened, an engine swung at him and he jumped to the clearance side but it was full of steel and when the engine hit him the steel forced him to get his leg cut off. The mine inspector said he never saw any steel and so Hutchinson was only given $3100 from the company to help cover medical expenses. Hutchinson says that it was greed that made the coal company do what they did. He says they would still be doing it today if nobody had done anything about it.

Keywords: Coal unions; Labor unions; Mine accidents; Mine injuries; Steel unions; Unions

Subjects: Coal miners--Labor unions--Organizing; Coal mines and mining; Coal mines and mining--Safety regulations; Ethics; Medical care--Kentucky

01:12:21 - Roving pickets / Semet-Solvay

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember anything about the roving pickets?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about the roving pickets that would travel from mine to mine and would get the workers to leave with them so the mine would have to shut down. Then they would travel to another mine. All of this was an effort to get better contracts for the workers. Hutchinson also talks about a man who was killed because he went back to work at the mine despite the other miners shutting it down. When he was going to the mine as a “scab” someone shot him in the woods and he died.

Keywords: Labor unions; Mine strikes; Miners; Miners unions; Protests; Roving pickets; Scabs

Subjects: Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Ethics; Mining camps; Picketing; Protest movements

01:30:21 - Farming / Pressure from the coal company

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Partial Transcript: Were there people farming on Marrowbone Creek or was just about everybody a miner?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson says that most people stopped farming to mine and most of the people that were still farming were working in the coal mine while their family worked on the farm. Next, Hutchinson talks about mine thugs harassing the families of miners on strike to scare them back to work. Finally, Hutchinson and his wife briefly discuss her family and a few families in the area.

Keywords: Farming; Gun thugs; Mine guards; Mining families; Protests; Strikes; Union harassment; Union opposition

Subjects: Ethics; Families; Family farms; Farmers; Mining camps

01:43:07 - Mineral rights / Hutchinson’s life after Henry Clay

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever remember hearing any of the old timers around talk about when the mineral rights were bought?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about what he was told about the purchasing of the mineral rights and land by the coal companies. Hutchinson says before the mines, people either farmed or would raft timber to be sold. Hutchinson briefly talks about the places he lived after working at the Henry Clay mine. Hutchinson talks about why he doesn't like the idea of women mining. He also talks about his wife and when and where they met.

Keywords: Coal companies; Henry Clay coal mine; Mineral rights; Timber industry; Women miners

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Economic conditions; Coal leases; Coal miners--Kentucky; Coal miners--Labor unions; Kentucky--Social life and customs

02:04:35 - Working for the union / Remembering other workers

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Partial Transcript: Now what about this, um, group that was called Miners for Democracy?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about Miners for Democracy and other memories about the the union before he switched to the steelworkers' union. He also talks about some corruption within the miners' union. Hutchinson talks about many different people he remembers working with. Next, he talks about the clubhouse at the mine camp for the potential investors or important people. Finally, Hutchinson talks about Vernon Sanders and how he was such a kind man, and his opinion on the killing of Perry Adkins.

Keywords: Boss town; Coal miners union; Labor unions; Mine towns; Union corruption; Unions

Subjects: Coal miners--Kentucky; Coal miners--Labor unions; Ethics; Families; Industries

02:35:03 - Perry Adkins' funeral and death

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Partial Transcript: So you were, you were there at the funeral?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about attending Perry Adkins’ funeral, he says it was the largest funeral in Pike County. Hutchinson explains how people loaded up in trucks and drove to the funeral. He believes several thousand people could have attended. He also notes that there were no gun thugs, they were all gone. There was such a huge response because Perry symbolized the struggle between the union and the coal mines and was the first public execution the coal mine attempted. Next, Hutchinson talks about how a man was harassed by the gun thugs while Perry Adkins was dying in the same room. Hutchinson says the union miners were scared that the mine was going to start killing all of them and at that point none of them were armed. Finally, Hutchinson talks about how more gun thugs came after the shooting to round up all the miners and take them to jail.

Keywords: Gun thugs; Labor unions; Mine guards; Mine thugs; Perry Adkins; Unions; Violence

Subjects: Coal miners--Kentucky; Ethics; Mining camps; Political activists; Protest movements

02:51:28 - Families split over the union

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Partial Transcript: Did the unions split--were there families that were split over the union?

Segment Synopsis: Hutchinson talks about families that had been split by the union or the mine. He says families would be upset if you weren't working or if you weren't striking and it was a complicated situation. Hutchinson agrees that Henry Clay Mine was a turning point for the unions. Hutchinson also says Harlan County had to fight much longer and harder for a union. Finally, Hutchinson mentions some of the mine guards he remembers.

Keywords: Harlan County (Ky.); Henry Clay coal mine; Labor unions; Mining camps; Picketing; Protests; Strikes; Unions

Subjects: Coal miners--Kentucky; Coal miners--Labor unions; Coal mines and mining; Families; Protest and social movements