Expert on 1920s coal-mine wars to speak at RU

Book cover "When Miners March"

'When Miners March' is a compilation of newspaper articles by the son of union activist Bill Blizzard.

Radford University's McConnell Library presents Wess Harris, a noted authority on the West Virginia mine wars and editor of the book, "When Miners March," the story of Bill Blizzard and the battle of Blair Mountain. Harris will give a free public presentation at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, in the library on the university campus.

The West Virginia mine wars began in 1920 with a shootout in Matewan, W.Va. The situation escalated, and in August 1921 about 10,000 coal miners rebelled against mine operators, lawmen and strikebreakers in the battle of Blair Mountain. The uprising, one of the largest armed rebellions in U.S. history, ended only when the U.S. Army intervened.

William H. "Bill" Blizzard, a miner and union organizer, led the union forces. He was later tried for, but acquitted of, treason and murder. Following his acquittal he served as legislative representative for the United Mine Workers and as president of the United Mine Workers District 17, based in Charleston, W.Va.

Blizzard's story was first told in a series of newspaper articles by his son, William C. Blizzard, under the title "Struggle and Lose, Struggle and Win! The Story of Coal Miners in West Virginia." The series was published by the socialist newspaper "Labors Daily" in 1952-53. In 2004, William C. Blizzard worked with Wess Harris to publish his newspaper articles as the book "When Miners March."

Besides Blizzard and the battle of Blair Mountain, Harris will discuss the William C. and Bill Blizzard When Miners March Coal and Labor Collection, housed at Radford University as part of the McConnell Library Appalachian Collection. The collection contains transcripts and newspaper accounts of the uprising and the subsequent trial, personal papers from William C. Blizzard, documents from Bill Blizzard's career as a union leader and other materials.

McConnell Library's Appalachian Collection comprises manuscripts and other primary materials that document the history and culture of Southwest Virginia and Appalachia. The collection is open to the public for research.

For more information, contact Gene Hyde, Appalachian Collection librarian, at (540) 831-5692 or

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Blizzard trial

This historic photo and description from the Bill Blizzard trial are part of McConnell Library's archives.

Mar 21, 2013
Dan Waidelich
(540) 831-7749