It is no longer possible to recall when the Batgirl blog was discovered but after reading the first blog post I became a regular reader of Le blog de la Batgirl at Chess.com. For several reasons this reader drifted away from Chess.com, but not Batgirl. That changed with the pandemic and my year sans internet. Something recently sent me in search of Batgirl again, and what was found was shocking. The latest blog post by Batgirl is dated Feb 5, 2022, and is entitled, Which Side Are You On? (https://www.chess.com/blog/batgirl/which-side-are-you-on) It begins:
- This blog is about music, not chess so there’s no need to mention this in the comments. It’s featured because I have Top Blogger status. If you find this offensive, I’m sorry but I have no control over it. Just contact the powers-that-be and complain to them instead of using the comment area to note the obvious.
- Although this blog addresses certain political influences, it’s about music not politics. Politically, I’m simply a Humanist and whatever advances the situations for those least able or least advantaged has my vote. Whatever your own political philosophy might be, I don’t care to read about it in the comments and will most likely delete any that appear there.
- I’ve spent the past several months considering my options. Since, after the rather despicable treatment I received at the duplicitous hands of chess.com back in Feb. 2021, I have no plans to ever blog about chess on this site again [though I occasionally write something chessic (e.g.) in the forums for the members’ benefit], I left myself the uncertain option of blogging on non-chess topics. I decided to give a go to writing again about music, especially as I had already spent many, many months of focused reading and listening on the subject below. While I’m sure that few here have any interest in the topic, I wanted it in my catalogue.
Wow! It appears Batgirl left Chess.com. There must be a story in the fact that the top blogger at Chess.com was given “…rather despicable treatment I received at the duplicitous hands of chess.com back in Feb. 2021.” Wowee…
Batgirl begins, “I live in what was once predominately a textile region and have little to no experience with mines, but there’s something about mining that captures one’s attention. I’ve even written before about mining in the UK, specifically in Wales, in a previous music-inspired posting (see: Bells) (https://www.chess.com/forum/view/off-topic/bells)
I read “Bells” first, and suggest you do the same.
“In the best of times coal mining is an extremely difficult and dangerous life, but for most miners, the best of times has always been a rarity.
During the past year my attention has been focused on the factors that surround the development of unions in the United States along with their strong associations with communism, socialism, pacifism, minorities and the U.S. government all relative to the music. I’m constantly reminded of the complexities as well as the subtleties involved, but I’m never surprised by the anguish, anger and helplessness of those who tended to be most affected in this struggle.
This posting concerns itself with the coal mines in Southeastern Kentucky, an area not far from West Virginia, Tennessee or North Carolina, mainly in the 1930s, and the heartfelt music that the events inspired.”
Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
Next comes, “Coal mining was a rather recent development in Harlan County. Traditionally this area was home to mountain people who lived on the land farming, hunting, raising commercial livestock and even moonshining. As one elder recalled, he used to kick coal down the path on his way to retrieve firewood to heat his house. This changed around 1910 when US Steel and International Harvester began their exploitation of the the hidden coal resources to fuel their faraway plants. Ford Motor Company would soon join in. These and many other companies created coal towns or camps where the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad was enticed to build spurs for the transport of this black bituminous freight. People who had never before seen a train were hired to lay the track. Suddenly, almost overnight, coal mining jobs with their promise of a better life became the best employment option and mutated the entire culture of the region. Coal miners were in fact paid a somewhat decent wage and with WWI and the closing of mines in the UK, the demand was exceptionally high and the future looked bright.”
This brought one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Justified, to mind because much of it was set in Harlan county, in the state of West Virginia, one of, if not the poorest, states in the union.
The state is on, or near the bottom of every listing when it comes to wealth, or lack thereof. West Virginia has coal, lotsa coal. Unfortunately for the United States the current Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, appears to be a DINO (Democrat in Name Only).
Along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema
of Arizona, (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10751455/Kyrsten-Sinema-boasted-using-cleavage-persuade-uptight-Republican-lawmakers.html) the two threw monkey wrenches into the recent Joe Biden legislation, watering down what could have been good for We The People. Sinema recently left the Democratic party to become an Independant. (https://nypost.com/2022/12/09/kyrsten-sinema-branded-traitor-by-democrats/) Politics is not the only thing in which the woman goes both ways. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kyrsten-sinema-first-openly-bisexual-person-senate_n_5c2e5094e4b08aaf7a97504f)
Joe wrecked the Biden agenda because he must cater to the coal industry to become reelected. Joe put personal interest before the welfare of We The People. There is less need for coal now because of access to cleaner fuels, but the poor people mountain people have nothing else, so Joe Manchin keeps fighting a losing battle to stay in office. The poor man is so tied to the past he cannot step into the future.
After the first few minutes of Justified I was hooked, lined, and sinkered, with each and every episode eventually being watched.
The next scene from Justified shows what it is like to work in a mine:
The United Mine Workers of America Union (UMW or UMWA) under John L. Lewis, made several half-hearted attempts to organize locals and recruit area miners into the union but nothing much came of it. In fact, it was met with resistance from the miner owners and their resistance took an uncompromising stance. Miners who dared to joined the union were immediately blacklisted and evicted from their company-owned houses. The Kentucky mines used the “truck system” or “payment in kind” or “script” only good in the company store for wages so the miners received little or no actual money for their work, had no savings and were totally dependent on the mine owners. To be fair, this wasn’t always forced on them, though mine owners or “operators” did use pressure tactics to convince their employees, and many had an option for cash wages, but, like credit cards, it was a trap nonetheless that put even the most judicious folks at the mine owners’ mercy.
The song Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis 1946) addressed this system. In fact the Kentucky coal miner/singer George S. Davis claimed to have written a similar song called Twenty-One Tons in the 1930s (while this was an unprovable claim, it’s quite possible both Davis and Travis embellished on already existing songs from somewhere deep in their memories (Travis’ father was also a Kentucky coal miner). Back in the 1930s George S. Davis, known as the “The Singing Miner,” wrote some songs about the Harlan struggle.
Then there is the second song provided, one with which I was unfamiliar, and I have been a fan of Johnny Cash since the early nineteen sixties:
One of the saddest songs to come out the the coal camps was written by 12 year old Della Mae Graham of Wlider Tennessee (just south of Harlan County Kentucky) after her father, Byron “Barney” Graham, leader of the UMW local, was shot in the back by Jack Green , a company hired Chicago gunman (along with Doc Thompson) on Sunday morning, April 30, 1933 as he walked by the company store (he had 10 bullet wounds, a bruise on his head and 14 shell cartridges from 3 different guns were found at the site). Out of fear, no local minister would conduct the funeral so divinity students from Nashville were called in to perform the ceremony which was attended by 1000 people. After a mock trial, Green was acquitted. Thompson was never charged.
The Ballad of Barney Graham
On April the thirtieth
Upon the streets of Wilder
They shot him brave and free
They shot my darling father
He fell upon the ground
‘Twas in the back they shot him
His blood came streaming down
They took the pistol handles
And beat him on the head
The hired gunmen beat him
‘Til he was cold and dead
When he left home that morning
I though he’d never return
But for my darlin’ father
My heart shall ever yearn
We carried him to the graveyard
There we laid him down
To sleep in death for many a year
In the cold and sodden ground
Although he left the union
He tried so hard to build
His blood was spilled for justice
And justice guides us still
Here Hedy West sings the song under the title Lament for Barney Graham. Hedy West’s father had been a textile and coal mine union organizer during the 1930s.
Florence Reece wrote the most enduring song to come out of that era: Which Side Are You on? Although she had long been an activist, below she outlines the specific circumstances for the poem:
Sheriff J.H. Blair and his men came to our house in search of Sam – that’s my husband – he was one of the union leaders. I was home alone with our seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, waiting to shoot Sam down when he came back. But he didn’t come home that night. Afterward I tore a sheet from a calendar on the wall and wrote the words to ‘Which Side Are You On?’ to an old Baptist hymn, ‘Lay the Lily Low’. My songs always goes to the underdog – to the worker. I’m one of them and I feel like I’ve got to be with them. There’s no such thing as neutral. You have to be on one side or the other. Some people say, ‘I don’t take sides – I’m neutral.’ There’s no such thing. In your mind you’re on one side or the other. In Harlan County there wasn’t no neutral. If you wasn’t a gun thug, you was a union man. You had to be.
There have been many modifications to the verses over time, but here are her original words:
Which Side Are You On?
Come all of you good workers,
Good news to you I’ll tell,
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
We’ve started our good battle,
We know we’re sure to win,
Because we’ve got the gun thugs
A-lookin’ very thin.
They say they have to guard us
To educate their child;
Their children live in luxury
Our children’s almost wild.
With pistols and with rifles
They take away our bread,
And if you miners hinted it
They’d sock you on the head.
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there;
You either are a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.
Oh workers, can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
My daddy was a miner,
He is now in the air and sun [i.e. blacklisted]
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle’s won.
There is more, oh so much more, to this wonderful post. The article, which appears to be the last written for Chess.com, is magnificent. Batgirl has created a blogging masterpiece. This is the best thing to ever appear at the now moribund Chess.com. Batgirl is the best female blogger of my time. My hat is off to the one and only Batgirl.