RACINE, W.Va. (WOWK) – In 1921 thousands of union miners marched from Marmet to Racine, to seek retribution for the murders of two UMWA supporters.
At Blair Mountain, they were met by a private army where a five-day battle ensued.
On this Labor Day, the UMWA and its supporters found a creative way to remember those who fought so many years ago.
“My great-uncle led this march in 1921. My grandfather Roberts was in the march, my grandfather Harlow was in the march,” said UMWA International President Cecil Roberts.
This year Roberts led the march with more than a dozen people, walking the 11 miles from Marmet in Boone County to Racine.
“The thing that’s hard to envision is 10,000 people starting out in mass and how that went, when we had 15 people trying to figure out how to make that work,” Roberts continued.
With the 100 year anniversary of the Matewan Massacre, where two union supporters were killed, and the ensuing Blair Mountain march right around the corner, Roberts wanted to take this Labor Day to walk in the shoes of those union men and women who came before.
“Most people don’t even know what transpired here,” Roberts said. “This should be the labor movements place to look for inspiration.”
During their almost 11 mile hike, Roberts and the 14 others were able to experience a little bit of what those men and women experienced 100 years ago.
Now, Delegate Rodney Miller (D – Boone) would like others to be able to walk the same path.
“I would like to see at various points along the way where certain historical events happened,” Miller explained. “A story board, something along the lines of a national park signage.”
The historic five-day battle between miners and mine owners ended on Blair Mountain after the U.S. Army arrived to break up the fighting.
But in present-day West Virginia, the miners are still battling, this time for pensions.
“We were made a promise a long time ago and it’s never been kept,” said UMWA member Kirby Jarrell. “I would love to see our Congress, our Senate, our President pass a bill very shortly to get this straightened out. ”