Have you ever been called a “redneck”? Well its actually a title any West Virginian should be proud of.
The term probably originated at the Battle of Blair Mountain, where striking miners wore red bandanas around their necks while battling mine guards.
Some 10,000 armed miners confronted an army of law officers and strikebreakers in 1921 after a series of strikes in southern West Virginia. To distinguish themselves, the striking miners wore red bandanas around their necks.
Though there is more than one story about where the term originated, many agree its popular use started at Blair Mountain.
The battle ended only after the U.S. Army intervened by presidential order.
In the early 1900s, coal was a dominating force in much of West Virginia, particularly in Logan and Mingo counties. Coal companies essentially owned not only the mines but the miners and their families as well.
Those miners lived at the mercy of their bosses. Those who fought for better wages and living conditions were often fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, and banned from working at other mines. The working miners who stayed were consistently watched by guards.
If you were a miner in the state, you either accepted the conditions or you moved on.
Companies also did not pay miners in US dollars; instead they were paid in scrip, money exchanged only at coal company stores owned by the employers. Miners became dependent on the coal companies reinforcing “employee loyalty.”
Today, in celebration of this group of freedom fighters that helped cultivate the term “redneck,” West Virginians and other visitors can learn more about this part of WV history at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan.