More Than the Ol' In-Out
Text by Bryan Woolley; Photographs by Ford Reid The University Press of Kentucky, 120 pp., $7.50
THE NET WORKS had regularly sent in their news crews for the quick "in-out," as had a handful of this country's standard, liberal newspapers. Another handful of "your basic liberal magazines"--The Progressive, Nation, New Republic, Ramparts, The New Yorker--were keeping their eyes, or at least those of their free-lance stringers, on what was going on in the mountain hollows that line the path of a stream called Clover Fork in Eastern Kentucky.
What was going on was a 13-month old strike by a recently recreated local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).
The strike directly affected the lives and families of only 180 coal miners. But the reddogging media men from nearby cities and from the East Coast, slowly relearning the bumps and bends in Kentucky Highway 18 that their predecessors had learned 40 years before, knew they had a story. Violence had erupted in Harlan County, Bloody Harlan County, once more. Union men, their wives and children were struggling against scabs, state troopers, operator-owned judges, and union-busting Duke Power Company men with picket lines, prayers, pistols and even switches and brooms.
Arnold Miller's UMW reform administration was up against its first great test, and it was widely acknowledged that if the "new UMW" could succeed in re-organizing a mine in Harlan County--for 15 years the stronghold of murderer and corrupt UMW president W.A. (Tony) Boyle--it could succeed anywhere. Reformer Jock Yablonski had feared to campaign there in 1969. The Boyle henchmen who slayed Yablonski, his wife and his daughter in their beds had done the bidding of District 19 officials.
The hollows were up in arms; two men had been wounded, and a third killed by gunshot; miners had been evicted from company-owned houses; and a group of liberals, including Senator Fred Harris, Willard Wirtz and some chic Harvard types had come down as concerned citizens to investigate. Miller--who in an unprecedented union show of support, had backed the strikers with $100 per week of strike pay for over a year--called for a five-day nationwide mines shutdown, and led a rally of several thousand miners from across the nation in a parade through Harlan's streets on August 2, 1974.
So there was enough film and copy flowing out of Brookside, Ky., to keep the editors in Louisville and Knoxville and Washington and New York happy. And the contract negotiations seemed close to a climax.
But two members of the press corps, a writer named Bryan Woolley and a photographer named Ford Reid, decided to go beyond the usual get-some-quotes-from-the-hillbillies-and-write-it-up. We Be Here When the Morning Comes is the product of a month--the last month of the strike, August 1974--of living with the Brookside miners.
Their editors at The Courier-Journal, a Louisville daily, agreed that something more than spot news coverage was needed, and agreed to sponsor the book. Reid and Woolley lived with roof-bolter miner Louie Stacy and hung out at Junior Deaton's general store. They recorded what the people were saying and doing, and, inevitably, empathized with them.
We Be Here is mostly large chunks of miners' dialogue and still photos that avoid the sensational. Reid and Woolley portray sensitive, shrewd, brave mountain folks instead of hillbilly pawns. Like a similar documentary four decades ago on Alabama tenant farmers by James Agee and Walker Evans, We Be Here was rejected by the editors who commissioned it. Fortunately, another unabashedly subjective book on some not-so-famous people deserving of praise has finally made it into print.