The Augusta Heritage Center is proudly collaborating with the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and the Blair Centennial Committee to produce an incredible event that remembers and celebrates a critical moment in labor rights history. Join virtuosic blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins, a 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellow, and Augusta folklife coordinator emeritus Gerry Milnes, the two musical powerhouses behind the soundtrack to the movie “Matewan.” They’ll be joined by Heather Hannah, a songwriter and third-generation harmony singer from the coalfields of West Virginia. Appalachian ballad singer, Saro-Lynch Thomason, will also help open the show.
Between musical acts, the audience will be treated to some history of the music surrounding Blair Mountain, including short talks by West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard and beloved vocalist Doris Fields, better known as “Lady D,” West Virginia’s “First Lady of Soul.” Poet and activist Crystal Good will remotely perform her poem, “Civil Up & Rising.”
Before the show (4 pm-7 pm), traditional string bands led by Kim Johnson and Jesse Milnes will perform in the lobby. Master of traditional West Virginian dances Mack Samples will give a dance clinic. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit blair100.com. Tickets are very limited as most seats will remain empty to allow for proper distancing during the show.
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a decades-long labor struggle in the southern West Virginia coalfields. It’s the story of both tremendous struggle and sacrifice. The battle itself marks a triumph of the human spirit against incredible odds. It is the story of mining families banding together to take on coal executives and the corrupt apparatus they had built to violently defend their power and wealth.
Today, a century later, this battle still rings in West Virginia’s mountains. Miners lost that fight on that famous hill, but the sacrifices of those who fought on Blair Mountain laid down a framework for national labor protection that their descendants won. Now, new labor conflicts are emerging in West Virginia, and the spirit of Blair Mountain is alive, as evidenced by the red-bandana-wearing West Virginia teachers in their successful 2018 and 2019 work stoppage—a strike that has rippled into dozens more like it across the country.
The Battle of Blair Mountain is a history that can’t just be told; it must also be sung. Music and poetry were more than moral support for striking coal miners; they were a vehicle by which the suppressed history of the Mine Wars and Blair Mountain were passed from one generation to the next. Come learn about some of these traditions with us!