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Written In Blood: Courage And Corruption In The Appalachian War Of Extraction
Written In Blood: Courage And Corruption In The Appalachian War Of Extraction

Our Price: $19.95
Pages: 256
Trim: 6 x 9
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-1-62963-445-6

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Edited by Wess Harris

Written in Blood features the work of Appalachia’s leading scholars and activists making available an accurate, ungilded, and uncensored understanding of our history. Combining new revelations from the past with sketches of a sane path forward, this is a deliberate collection looking at our past, present, and future.

Sociologist Wess Harris (When Miners March) further documents the infamous Esau scrip system for women, suggesting an institutionalized practice of forced sexual servitude that was part of coal company policy. In a conversation with award-winning oral historian Michael Kline, federal mine inspector Larry Layne explains corporate complicity in the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster which killed 78 men and became the catalyst for the passage of major changes in U.S. mine safety laws. Mine safety expert and whistleblower Jack Spadaro speaks candidly of years of attempts to silence his courageous voice as he recalls government and university collaboration in covering up details of the 1972 Buffalo Creek flooding disaster which killed over 100 people and left 4000 homeless.

Moving to the next generation of thinkers and activists, attorney Nathan Fetty examines current events in Appalachia and musician Carrie Kline suggests paths forward for people wishing to set their own course rather than depend on the kindness of corporations.


Written in Blood shines a critical light on the untold true history of the WV Mine Wars.” —Mari-Lynn Evans, director and producer of Blood on the Mountain

“With Written in Blood, Wess Harris has once again called attention to how the West Virginia state government and the coal industry have struggled to keep our state’s real history buried beneath a slag heap of fairy tales and misinformation. His critics with find this book, like his other works, abrasive and filled with distortions about the coal companies’ abuse and exploitation of the state’s coal miners and their families. His supporters will welcome Written in Blood as Harris once again pushes the boundaries in an effort to reveal that abuse and exploitation.”
—David Corbin, author of Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922

“For 200 years, the coal industry has promised us prosperity. Written in Blood leaves little doubt that the prosperity never arrives. The promise itself is contingent on us agreeing to our own destruction. We must agree to stand idly by as they destroy our communities, water, air, health, and lives. We owe them nothing. They owe us everything.”
—Maria Gunnoe, 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, 2012 Raoul Wallenberg Medalist for Human Rights

“For more than a century, the real history of the working people of our state has been deliberately scrubbed from our children’s schoolbooks and our collective knowledge. Written in Blood helps bring the true history of West Virginia working families back into the light of day. Read it. Learn it. Pass it on!” —Mike Caputo, International District 31 Vice President, United Mine Workers of America

“Labor historian Wess Harris targets lost history in a brand new book that provides jaw-dropping accounts of how women were treated by an industry already widely known for its ruthlessness and callousness.” —Counterpunch


Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction edited by Wess Harris. Oakland, California: PM Press 2017. 252 pages with an index and color and black-and-white photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.

The heart of this book is two articles that were published first in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage when I was serving as its editor. “Esau in the Coal Fields” by Michael Kline exposes a horrendous practice at the Whipple Company Store near Oak Hill, West Virginia. When a coal miner living in their company town would be killed in the mines, his family would be evicted from their home unless the widow agreed to work as a prostitute upstairs in the Company Store. “Victory on Blair Mountain” by Wess Harris argues that the militant miners who fought the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 in West Virginia against the coal operators and the local, state, and federal governments did gain significant victories then and there. Before I published each of these articles I carefully edited them, with the consent of the authors, to be sure that the content was unassailable, and I checked with my supervisors at Berea College who publish Appalachian Heritage to make sure that publishing these articles would not result in any liabilities on their part. Written in Blood begins with all of the articles in Truth Be Told edited and published by Wess Harris in 2015 plus one poem. These essays include the two articles mentioned above and three articles presenting collaborating evidence that the practices at the Whipple Company Store were widespread as well as were other ways of sexually exploiting the women of the coal fields. The new book also includes 13 of the 14 articles in Dead Ringers: Why Miners March edited and published by Harris in 2012. In addition, the new book includes interviews by Michael and Carrie Kline with two courageous defenders of coalfield workers, Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadero. It ends with three articles, not found elsewhere, by Nathan J. Fetty, Carrie Kline, and Wess Harris that bring coal field struggles up to date and provide both inspiration and concrete suggestions for constructive participation in rectifying past abuses and building a more just future. The result is that you need Written in Blood even if you have the two earlier books, but if you have Written in Blood, there is little need for either of the two previous books.

From Publisher Weekly:

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction
Edited by Wess Harris. PM, $19.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-62963-445-6
This slender but powerful anthology from labor historian Harris (with William C. Blizzard, When Miners March) relates a people’s history of conflict between mining companies and the workers of Appalachia from the late 19th century to early 20th century. The collection draws on an eclectic array of sources, including the folk songs of Sarah Ogan Gunning, who calls for miners to “sink this capitalist system into the darkest pits of hell”; interviews with a whistle-blower, a miners’ defense lawyer, and miners’ families; and a reproduction of a pamphlet on the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain produced by the coal operator’s union. The book is especially strong on gender issues, such as the exploitation of young “comfort girls” in remote mining camps and the Esau scrip system, in which the wives or widows of miners exchanged sex for the ersatz money used at the company store. Some of the Appalachian history here is well established, but the book offers invaluable insight into organized labor’s power in one of America’s most dangerous industries, the collusion of state power and big business, and the resilient spirit of miners and their families. Examining the region’s history and future prospects, Harris’s volume offers deeply researched and ethically sound perspectives on an industry that has become a 21st-century political flash point.