Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936


"They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning, Harry Sims his name was. . . . That deputy knew his business. He didn't give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach. We need some shooting like that down here in Pineville." So Malcolm Cowley, writing in the New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal operator's response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky (1932:70). the contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners, especially those who hold conservative, reactionary or racist points of view (Huber 1995:146-48). During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was "a Communist." and during the first four decades of the twentieth century, redneck also referred more broadly to a miner who was a member of a labor union, particularly to one who was on strike. This last, now-obsolete meaning of the word provides insight into how local leaders and organizers of the United Mine Workers used language and symbols to foster union solidarity among racially and ethnically divided miners.


History and Political Science

Keywords and Phrases

Miners' Unions; Strikes; Appalachian Region; Strikes And Lockouts; United Mine Workers of America

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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© 2006 Western States Folklore SocietyWestern States Folklore Society, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2006

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