Blair Pathways is a multi-media project which uses music and narrative to tell the story of the West Virginia Mine Wars (1900-1921). The story is told through a series of historic music pieces, covered by contemporary musicians, which take the listener step-by-step through the main events and themes of these wars. The CD features 20 tracks along with a fold-out map, which coordinates track numbers to the geographic sites of each historic moment. On our website, this same map links to short essays which detail each historic moment, and explain the thematic connection to the musical piece.
The West Virginia Mine Wars were, undoubtedly, some of the largest and longest-lasting labor battles in the history of the United States. Between 1900 and 1921, three major periods of conflict arose: the Fayette/Kanawha strikes of 1902, the Paint Creek/Cabin Creek Strikes of 1912-1913 and the Mingo-Logan Wars of 1919-1921. These conflicts were spread across southern West Virginia, which was the nation’s preeminent producer of bituminous coal in the early 20th century. These conflicts culminated with a week-long militant uprising in August of 1921, involving over 10,000 men and women. Much of the fighting was focused at Blair Mountain in Logan County. Blair Mountain currently meets standards to qualify as a national historic battle site, but sadly faces threats from mountain-top removal mining. Money from sales of the CD will go to benefit Friends of Blair Mountain (FOBM), a non-profit working to save the Blair Mountain battlefield site.
In the June of 2011, several hundred people marched to bring attention to the plight of Blair Mountain and the legacy of the West Virginia mine wars. This event, called “The March to Blair Mountain: Appalachia is Rising” involved coordination between several groups, including the Sierra Club, FOBM and many grassroots organizations. The marchers spent one week retracing the main route used by uprising participants in 1921, starting in Marmet, Kanawha County and ending at the crest of Blair Mountain. As marchers progressed in the summer heat, communal music and song were used constantly as a way to raise moral and create solidarity. This practice inspired the project’s producer, Saro Lynch-Thomason, to seek out the historic music used in Appalachia’s labor struggles.
Through research at the West Virginia State Archives and the Library of Congress, along with several excellent books and a good many helpful scholars and musicians, Saro was able to construct a narrative of the West Virginia mine wars out of Appalachia’s musical heritage. Special attention was paid to Appalachia’s multi-ethnic and political diversity to help broaden and shape the story from perspectives often historically ignored. Music traditions including American hymnody, Appalachian balladry, old-time fiddle and banjo, Italian anarchist anthems, African-American church songs, railroad work songs, labor movement classics and early gospel quartet styles were all selected to help tell the narrative.
After the pieces were selected, nearly 30 musicians were asked to create their own interpretations of these historic works in a way that would maintain the emotionality and essential character of each piece. The result is a compilation that traverses the harsh and inspiring history of West Virginia’s coal mine wars. The Blair Pathways CD and accompanying on-line narrative is meant to spark interest in Appalachia’s labor history and spur further efforts to save Blair Mountain. Please help us to shape Blair’s future and honor Appalachia’s – and all working peoples’- history.
What You Will Find on This Site
You will find the partnering material to the CD: The Map and Historic Narrative. You will also find samples of music linked to track numbers on the Map, and can read about our musicians on the Musician’s Page. We also have an archive of audio recordings of songs from the 2011 March to Blair Mountain, which are worth a listen. You can also, of course, BUY the Blair Pathways CD in physical or digital form.
What is to Come
Through 2012-2013 Saro will be developing and performing a presentation on the history of the mine wars through music from the Blair Pathways CD. Touring is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2013. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information or schedule an event.
From 2012 through early 2013, lesson plans for high-school students will be developed, utilizing material from the CD and the historic narrative. These lesson plans are in collaboration with Aurora Lights as part of the Blair Mountain Lesson Plan Project, which offers lesson plans concerning Blair Mountain for several different age groups.
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