Tag Archives: American History

Review: Mine Wars by Steve Watkins

Mine Wars by Steve Watkins

Mine Wars: The Bloody Fight for Workers’ Rights in the West Virginia Coal Fields
Steve Watkins
Published May 14, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Mine Wars

For fans of Steve Sheinkin and Deb Heiligman, a riveting true story of the West Virginia coal miners who ignited the largest labor uprising in American history.

In May of 1920, in a small town in the mountains of West Virginia, a dozen coal miners took a stand. They were sick of the low pay in the mines. The unsafe conditions. The brutal treatment they endured from mine owners and operators. The scrip they were paid-instead of cash-that could only be used at the company store.

They had tried to unionize, but the mine owners dug in. On that fateful day in May 1920, tensions boiled over and a gunfight erupted-beginning a yearlong standoff between workers and owners.

The miners pleaded, then protested, then went on strike; the owners retaliated with spying, bribery, and threats. Violence escalated on both sides, culminating in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in United States history.

In this gripping narrative nonfiction book, meet the resolute and spirited people who fought for the rights of coal miners, and discover how the West Virginia Mine Wars paved the way for vital worker protections nationwide. More than a century later, this overlooked story of the labor movement remains urgently relevant.

My Review

It’s a short book, I thought. I’ll be able to read it quickly, I thought. Wrong!

Okay, so it is a short book at just over 200 pages, but this was not a quick read for me, probably in large part because it’s a heavy topic, so I needed to break up my reading into more short sessions rather than read straight through the way I could have done with a milder nonfiction or fiction title.

However, it reveals a critical part of West Virginia history and the history of the labor movement in the US. Like some of the educators and people referenced in a late chapter in the book, I kept wondering how I hadn’t heard about this. Honestly, I can’t even remember learning anything about Mother Jones in school, which seems wild to me thinking about it now. It’s possible that her contributions were mentioned in a line or two and quickly moved past. Hard to say. I don’t think my history curriculum included very many women’s stories or much coverage of the 20th century other than the World Wars. But I digress.

Anyway. So, The Mine Wars. Some of the events described seem almost unfathomable in the calculated cruelty with which the coal mine owners and the men they hired to violently put down unrest among mine workers behaved. The escalation of warfare between the two sides can’t help but be genuinely shocking.

As I read, I kept thinking of a conversation I had with someone not all that long ago in which this person insisted that we don’t need unions in America because corporations will do the right thing for their workers. I had healing fantasies (see Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents) about pushing this book across the table to this anti-union person and asking him to repeat that sentiment to me after reading The Mine Wars. Because, uh, NO. The coal mine owners acted only in their own best interests and almost without exception at the expense of their workers.

The book introduces and follows a wide range of historical figures, from law enforcement officers to hired gunmen to mine workers to union leaders and politicians. It focuses on the coal industry and workers’ fight for equitable pay and reasonable safety measures from the early 1910s to the early 1920s.

The only real complaint I have about the book is that it jumps around in the timeline quite a bit, using statements like, “seven years later,” etc. Sometimes it was hard to tell when things happened. I would have loved to see a timeline of events included in the backmatter of the book. The backmatter does contain, however, a pretty extensive list of resource material, including at least one documentary. I’m excited to check that out.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

The text primarily features white men, but includes the stories of a few women and people of color.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to assault convictions of people mentioned in the text.

Spiritual Content
One man profiled was a part-time pastor and part-time mine worker. At one point, he spoke of putting down his Bible and taking up his gun.

Violent Content
Several chapters relate scenes involving gunfire. Sometimes, armed combatants attack one another. At other times, aggressors gun down unarmed opponents or civilians, including women and children.

Drug Content
References to alcohol use and drug abuse. One person profiled gets very drunk during a battle. Someone reports that a large number of armed men were drunk during a battle.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy by Emmanuel Acho

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy
Emmanuel Acho
Roaring Brook Press
Published May 4, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK BOY is an accessible book for children to learn about systemic racism and racist behavior. For the awkward questions white and non-black parents don’t know how to answer, this book is an essential guide to help support communication on how to dismantle racism in our youngest generation.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK BOY  creates a safe, judgment-free space for curious children to ask questions they’ve long been afraid to verbalize. How can I have white privilege if I’m not wealthy? Why do Black people protest against the police? If Black people can say the N-word, why can’t I? And many, many more.

Young people have the power to effect sweeping change, and the key to mending the racial divide in America lies in giving them the tools to ask honest questions and take in the difficult answers.  UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK BOY is just one way young readers can begin to short circuit racism within their own lives and communities.

My Review

I read this book in part because of the YouTube series by Emmanuel Acho called “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”. I think he started posting the series after George Floyd’s murder. One of the things I love is that he creates this space in which people are welcomed to face that they have questions and to ask them.

So the book is more of a brief walkthrough of the history of racism in America and why it’s important to take time to be better educated and how to go about doing that. In more than one place in the book, Acho recommends other great resources for continuing education and conversations about these issues.

He does a great job making points in a really accessible, gentle way. This book is a great welcome to the conversation about racism. This version is specifically for kids, and I think it does a great job introducing ideas and giving an age-appropriate view into the history and the issues. I think I also own the e-book of the adult version. This made me want to check that out for comparison to see if it goes deeper into some of the topics covered.

All in all, I think this book makes a great beginning read for kids in middle or late elementary school. It’s perfect for those who have questions or are looking for more information on racism in America.

If you haven’t seen any of the Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man videos Emmanuel Acho has posted in his YouTube channel, please check them out. That link should take you to the playlist of all the videos in the series.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 9 to 12.

Emmanuel Acho is a Black man.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Brief references to murder and lynching, violence during the Civil Rights Movement, and other historical events.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK BOY in exchange for my honest review.