Protest Songs of the Appalachian Coalfields

Scope: 

This pathfinder is intended to be a beginner’s guide to the rich traditions of protest and labor songs in the central and southern Appalachian coalfields. From the very beginning of the industrialization period in the coal filled mountains of Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, and Eastern Tennessee, mountain people have used songs to draw attention to and instigate reaction against poor, unsafe, and unfair working conditions and labor practices in the expanding coal mines. These songs would play an important role in the struggle to unionize the coalfields and tell the miner’s story to the rest of the nation in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They would speak to the continued poverty and forced migration from the mountains of central Appalachia in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Finally, protest songs would lend their power to the struggles for Black Lung compensation in the 1960’s and the fight against the social and environmental destruction of surface mining in the 1970’s. Today songs of injustice and protest continue to speak to the conditions and struggles of the mountain populations throughout the coalfield region.

Introductory Text: 

Abramson, Rudy and Jean Haskell, ed. Encyclopedia of Appalachia.  Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. See p. 864-865 Folklore and Social Protest, p. 886 Occupational Folklore, p. 136-137 Coal Mining and Protest Music. ASU Spec App Coll F106.E53 2006

Carawan, Guy and Candie.  Voices from the Mountains.  Athens, Ga: University of Georgia Press, 1996.  WCU General HN79.A127 (Most recent edition with forward by Gurney Norman)

Carawan, Guy and Candie.  Voices from the Mountains.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.  ASU App Coll HN79.A13

Koenig, Benjamin. The Hard Working Miner: A Brief History of the American Coal Miner and His Songs. Moretown, VT: B. Koenig, 1969. ASU Spec App Coll ML3780.K63

Wilson, Charles and William Ferris, ed.  Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1989.  See p. 1023-1025 Protest Songs and p.1578-1579 Aunt Molly Jackson.  ASU App Coll Oversize F209.E53

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant:

  • Protest Songs – Appalachian Region Southern
  • Miners – Songs and Music
  • Coal Mines and Mining – United States – Songs and Music
  • Coal Mines and Mining – United States – Songs and Music Discography
  • Coal Mines and Mining – West Virginia – Songs and Music
  • Coal Trade – United States – Songs and Music
  • Miners – Songs and Music – History and Criticism
  • Coal Miners – Appalachian Region – Poetry
  • Coal Mines and Mining – Poetry
  • Mines and Mineral Resources – Songs and Music – History and Criticism
  • Jackson, Aunt Molly
  • Gunning, Sarah Ogan
  • Garland, Jim
  • Workman, Nimrod

Also Relevant:

  • Protest Songs
  • Protest Songs – United States – History and Criticism
  • Work Songs – History and Criticism
  • Working class -- Songs and music -- History and criticism
  • Working class – United States – Songs and Music – Periodicals
  • Work Songs – Southern States
  • Working Class – Songs and Music
  • Coal Miners – Appalachian Region – Political Activity
  • Coal Miners – Appalachian Region – Economic Conditions
  • Coal Miners – Diseases – United States
  • Folk Songs English – Appalachian Region – History and Criticism

More General:

  • Appalachian Region – Social Conditions
  • Appalachian Region – Economic Conditions
  • Coal Miners – Appalachian Region Southern
  • Coal Miners – Biography
  • Folk Songs English – Appalachian Region
  • Singers – United States – History and Criticism
Clipping Files Subject Headings - W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 
  • Black Musicians
  • Highlander Research Center
  • Music – Appalachia
  • Musicians – Appalachia
  • Seeger, Pete
Library of Congress Call Numbers: 
  • HN79
  • ML3780
  • ML3551
  • ML420
  • ML3545
  • M1629
  • ML3524
  • HD6515
  • PS3568
  • F456
Books: 

Carawan, Guy and Candie.  Voices from the Mountains.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.  ASU App Coll HN79.A13

Green, Archie.  Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972.  ASU App Coll ML3780.G74

Greenway, John. American Folksongs of Protest.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953.  ASU Music Stacks ML3551.G7

Korson, George G.  Coal Dust on the Fiddle: Songs and Stories of the Bituminous Industry. Hatboro, PA.: Folklore Associates, 1965.  ASU App Coll M1629.K686 C6   

Romalis, Shelly.  Pistol Packin’ Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.  ASU App Coll ML420.J15

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Abramson, Rudy and Jean Haskell, ed. Encyclopedia of Appalachia.  Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. See p. 864-865 Folklore and Social Protest, p. 886 Occupational Folklore, p. 136-137 Coal Mining and Protest Music. ASU Spec App Coll F106.E53 2006

Bronner, Simon, ed. Encyclopedia of American Folklife. Armonk, N.Y. : M. E. Sharpe, 2006. See p. 813-814 Miners, Bitumous: Music and Song. ASU Spec App Coll GR105.E3 2006.

Brunvand, Jan Harold, ed. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. New Tork: Garland Pub., 1996.  See p. 401 Aunt Molly Jackson and p. 519-523 Occupational Folklore. ASU App Coll Oversize GR101.A54 1996

Jablonski, Edward. The Encyclopedia of American Music. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,1981. See Aunt Molly Jackson and Protest Songs.  ASU Music Ref ML100.J28

Kleber, John E., ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. See p. 459 Aunt Molly Jackson and p. 395 Sarah Ogan Gunning. ASU App Coll F451.K413 1992

Wilson, Charles and William Ferris, ed. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1989.  See p. 1023-1025 Protest Songs and p.1578-1579 Aunt Molly Jackson. ASU App Coll Oversize F209.E53

Bibliographies: 

Appalachian Bibliography.  Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1968, 1972, and 1980. ASU App Coll Z1251.A7 A6

Denisoff, R. Serge. Songs of Protest, War & Peace; a Bibliography & Discography. Santa Barbara, Calif., ABC Clio, 1973. ASU Music Ref ML128.W2 D5 1973.

Munn, Robert F.  The Coal Industry in America: A Bibliography and Guide to Studies.  Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1977.  ASU App Coll Z6738.C6 M8

Ross, Charlotte T.  Bibliography of Southern Appalachia.  Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1976.  ASU App Coll Z1251.A7 B5

Abstracts and Indices: 

RILM Abstracts of Musical Literature (OCLC online @ http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org)

Arts and Humanities Search  (OCLC online @ http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org)

MLA Bibliography (OCLC online @ http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org)

Dissertation Abstracts Online (OCLC online @ http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org)

American: History and Life (OCLC online @ http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org)

Journals: 

Appalachian Journal. Quarterly publication.  Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1972-present. ASU App Coll F216.2.A66

Appalachian Voice. Boone, N.C. : Sierra Club’s Southern Appalachian Highlands Ecoregion Task Force, 1996-Summer 2008. ASU Spec App Coll (no call number provided in library catalog)

Journal of Appalachian Studies. Semi-Annual publication. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1995-present. ASU App Coll F217.A65

Mountain Life & Work. Berea: Berea College, 1925-1988. ASU App Coll GR103.M5

Talkin’ Union. Takoma Park, Md. : Saul Schniderman, 1981-1988. ASU Spec App Coll M197.L3 T14

Audio and Video Sources: 

Coalmining Women. Cambridge, Mass.: Rounder, 1997. ASU App Coll CDisc #262

Come All You Coal Miners. Cambridge, Mass.: Rounder, 1973. ASU App Coll Rec. #117

Davis, George. When Kentucky had no Union Men: George Davis, the Singing Miner of Hazard, Kentucky. Folkways Records, 1967. ASU App Coll Rec. #66

Jackson, Aunt Molly. Library of Congress Recordings.  Cambridge, Mass.: Rounder, 1972. ASU App Coll Rec. #694

Korson, George G., comp. Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners. Library of Congress [Music Division] Recording Laboratory, 1965. ASU App Coll Rec. #136

The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man. Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop, 1975. ASU App Coll VC #103

Dreadful Memories: The Life of Sarah Ogan Gunning.  Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop Films, 1988. ASU App Coll VC #25

Harlan County U. S. A. New York: Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment, 1976.  ASU Film/Video VC #5317

Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category.  Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop, 1975. ASU App Coll VC #67

Save the Land and People: A Cultural Workshop at the Highlander Center, November 1981. New Market, Tenn.: The Center, 1982. ASU App Coll VC #199

Compiled by: 

Compiler: Donavan Cain, 28 October 1999

Updated by: 

Updated: Mollie Surber, 9 October 2008

Subject: