Life in the mines: The UMWA in Alabama

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Last year for Labor Day, we shared a link to an interview with Cleatus and Louise Burns, about their experiences working in the coal mines and living in the mining camps in the first half of the 20th century, hazards and hardships that made organizing a labor union very important to workers.

This year, listen to this interview with Earl Brown, who gives a more in-depth account of the early history of labor unions in Alabama. Despite the state of race relations at the time, Brown says that “segregation was everywhere else” except in the mines…and the newly formed local mine workers’ union.

miner in mine
(Source of image: Central Iron and Coal Photograph Collection.)According to the abstract, Brown “recalls his life as a coal miner, daily life in the mining camps and the challenges surrounding organized labor in Alabama. He also discusses FDR and the effect of the Wagner Acts on organizing labor. He was a member of the United Mine Workers of America of America (UMWA) and recounts organizing drives, strikes and the unique sense of solidarity among mine workers.”

This interview, along with the others in the Working Lives Oral History Project, took place almost 30 years ago. So much knowledge about life in the the 1920s-1960s is preserved for us in this collection, including accounts of the Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and, of course, life in the coal and coke mines of Jefferson and Shelby Counties. These interviews also have transcripts, so you can follow along with the audio.

The history of the mining industry and its labor unions is complex and fascinating. What better way to celebrate these industrial workers than to hear from one of them!

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