Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Simon Swiney, May 13, 1988

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Swiney's upbringing

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Partial Transcript: Okay, well why don't we start out Simon, tell me where you was born at and who your parents were and everything.

Segment Synopsis: Simon Swiney, age 73, talks about being born on his family farm in a small house. Swiney had 11 other siblings but now he is the only one left. His oldest brother's father left for World War I but never came back so his mother remarried and had Swiney. Years later he eventually did come back but Swiney's mother had already remarried. On the farm they had around 50 acres of farmland where they grew corn for themselves and the livestock, as well as hay. They also had a few horses, some cattle and chickens. Over the winter they would pickle their beans and corn and such for food. Swiney said they could live but it wasn't an easy living.

Keywords: Cattle; Farming; Farms; Horses; Pickling; Siblings; WW1; WWI; World War I; World War One

Subjects: Childhood; Rural children; Rural conditions; Rural health--Kentucky; Traditional farming--Kentucky; World War, 1914-1918

00:08:31 - Working in the mines

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Partial Transcript: So we got older, me and Perry and (??), when we got older we all went to the mines.

Segment Synopsis: Swiney explains how, as he got older, he realized that he would need to work at the coal mines as well to make ends meet. His shifts would be from 3 PM to 9 AM the next day. Meaning he would have time to eat some breakfast, sleep a few hours, then go back to the mine. He would get a ride to the mines from his neighbor who had a car for 40 cents a day. The mine Swiney started working at was the largest in the region, called Henry Clay Mine. Swiney started at age 17 in 1930 and stayed there through the 1930s until he eventually quit. The pay was around $2 a day. Swiney says he remembers the mine being very cold when you went deep into it, the deepest you could go being around 5 miles. Swiney recollects on some of the bosses he had and meeting the owners every once in a while.

Keywords: Appalachian region; Coal companies; Coal mines; Henry Clay Mine; Miners

Subjects: Coal miners; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Rural conditions; Rural roads; Salaries; Transportation--Kentucky

00:25:05 - The union

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Partial Transcript: Well Simon, tell me what the early '30s was like when the union came in and tried to organize--

Segment Synopsis: Swiney explains how initially it was tough for the union to organize and get support. The union struggled to gain support from many of the Republicans. When miners were striking, the union would bring in trucks full of food to feed the miners. When the union finally did take over, Swiney says every few weeks the leader would tell the workers they would be getting a raise. The mine also went from having no information about safety to the union having a safety meeting and video shown every few months to educate the miners. However, it took a while for the union to gain control and before they did a few men got killed.

Keywords: Coal mines; Democrats; Mining camps; Republicans; Union aid; Unions

Subjects: Coal miners; Coal mines; Protest and social movements; Protest movements; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining--Kentucky

00:36:20 - Working in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: Did he tell you anything about me and my two brothers went up in Virginia?

Segment Synopsis: Swiney tells a story about he and his brothers trying to get jobs at a mining camp in Virginia. Their job was to carry tools across Cumberland Mountain by hand, which was 25 mile hike through a mountain. However, the boarding at the mining camp was $1.05 a day whether you were staying there or not. When Swiney asked the office manager how much money he made, the manager wouldn't tell him. So Swiney and his brothers decided to quit and cash out. The manager said that their bills and pay equaled out, meaning they made no money for the work. The office manager also refused to give them a few cents to be able to take the train back home, so as they were walking back Swiney and his brothers blew up some of the leftover dynamite in an old tree to get rid of it.

Keywords: Appalachian Region; Coal camps; Company scrip; Cumberland Mountain; Virginia

Subjects: Coal miners; Coal mines; Mining camps; Roads; Rural conditions

00:45:03 - Perry Adkins / Union causing political stress

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember when, uh, what--I think it was Perry Adkins and--

Segment Synopsis: Swiney talks about a moment where the union tensions were so high it resulted in death. There was a meeting held at the church on the mine camp, and it was most likely required to go to the meeting. However, Swiney's friend and union organizer Perry Adkins decided not to go, saying it was much too cold and he stayed at the bar. The mine authority got wind of this and sent two thugs to make an example out of him. When they arrived at the bar he knew was in trouble and tried walking down the stairs but they shot him in the stomach with a shotgun. The union didn't just create tensions between the mine and the miners but it also was a political issue, with Republicans and Democrats not agreeing on the union. Swiney says the mine also installed a massive searchlight so they could see into any corner of the mine camp or far down the road to keep tabs easier on the comings and goings of miners and the union.

Keywords: Democrats; Mine guards; Mine thugs; Perry Adkins; Republicans; Unions

Subjects: Labor unions--Strike benefits; Picketing; Political activists; Protest movements; Strikes and lockouts--coal mining

00:58:09 - Paying rent / Mine fighting against the union

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Partial Transcript: Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you this. He told me that you and some of y'uns that lived up here, uh, got to comparing your checks and found out you's all paying house rent on this place.

Segment Synopsis: Swiney explains how at the mine, you had to pay rent whether you lived at the mine or not. One payday Swiney saw that he was paying rent for a house but then as he was comparing notes with his friends, he noticed that they were all getting charged for the same house. When the union took control they stopped the forced renting. They also helped the miners understand the contracts they had signed so they wouldn't be tricked as easily. However during that struggle before the union took over, another one of Swiney's friends got shot but did not die. It turns out those thugs were acquitted of their charges and never served time for killing Adkins or shooting the other people. The union would also provide things so the miners could defend themselves during the struggle with the mine. After Perry was killed, they went on strike for a few days but in the end were forced to go back to work.

Keywords: Coal miners; Labor unions; Mine guards; Mine thugs; Mining camps; Strikebreakers; Violence

Subjects: Coal miners; Coal mines; Labor unions--Strike benefits; Picketing; Protest movements