From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Importing Negro Miners/Strikebreakers from Kentucky

Negro strikebreakers were first employed in 1855 by the Morgan Line steamship company. In the late 1800s when white coal miners would go on strike, there were several instances when mine owners imported non-union Negro miners from Kentucky and other southern states as replacements.

According to authors Greene and Woodson, importing Negro strikebreakers had increased the number of Negro mine workers because there was a demand for experienced miners, especially during the 1922 coal strike, and Negro miners were drawn to the higher wages. In spite of the labor demand and the promise of higher wages, the arrival of Negro miners/strikebreakers many times led to confrontations with striking miners and union leaders. Below are a few instances of Negro miners from Kentucky being imported to other states during the late 1800s.
  • Hocking Valley, OH - 1874 -- When the regions white miners went on strike bercause of lower wages and unfair company policies, mine owners could not break the strike, so Negro miners were brought in from the South. It was the first time that a large number of Negro miners had been used to break a strike. The 400-500 men came from the mining districts of Memphis, TN, Louisville, KY, and Richmond, VA. For mine operator John Martin, bringing in Negro miners was the "great triumph over Trade-Unions."

    When news of the Negro miners circulated through Nelsonville, New Straitsville, and other nearby communities, the Negro miners were confronted by the striking miners and their families. More than 100 Negro miners crossed the picket line to join the striking miners, and once funding was provided, they left Nelsonville. Those who remained were resented, as were the mine operators. Some of the white miners went back to work, leading to fights between white miners Negro miners; as a result, more Negro miners left the area.

    For more see H. G. Gutman, "Reconstruction in Ohio: Negroes in the Hocking Valley Coal Mines in 1873 and 1874," Labor History, vol. 3, issue 3, pp. 243-264 (quotation on p. 256).
  • Chicago, IL - June 1877 - Wilmington & Vermillion Coal Company at Braidwood -- Alanson Sweet, champion wage-cutter, cut the wages of Braidwood miners twice in 1876 and announced another cut for spring 1877, followed by a further cut in the following  winter. Fifteen hundred miners struck for higher wages.

    The coal company hired armed guards, and Sweet announced that the striking miners would not be paid for their last month of work. In June 1877, Sweet imported Negro miners from Kentucky and West Virginia. "With the mines filled with colored men, it is believed that the Company will not be burdened with the expense of another strike for many years."

    In retaliation, the strikers ran 400 Negro miners and their families out of town. Two Illinois militia regiments escorted them back into town. By November, several hundred striking miners returned to work and accepted the wage cuts. Most of the Negro miners returned home, but a few continued working in the Braidwood mine. See 1877: Year of Violence, by R. V. Bruce (quotation on p. 384).

    Negro miners from Kentucky who were still in Braidwood in 1880 (from the U.S. Federal Census):
  1. Nilson Clark (b. 1859)
  2. George Collins (b. 1855)
  3. Benjamin Cox (b.  840)
  4. Hanson Edwards (b. 1855)
  5. George Ewbanks (b. 1858)
  6. James Harris (b. 1835)
  7. George Hulbart (b. 1857)
  8. William Jones (b. 1849)
  9. Amos Rogers (b. 1850)
  10. Charles Smith (b. 1857)
  • Terre Haute, IN - December 1897 - Cabel Mining Company -- The Indiana state labor commissioners criticized the company for declining the proposal from its striking miners and importing 100 Negro miners from Kentucky (75 from Hopkins County) and  posting armed guards at the mine. In spite of the condemnation, the Cabel Mining Company imported even more Negro miners from Kentucky to take the place of the striking miners.

    See p. 18 in the First Biennial Report of the Indiana Labor Commission, 1897-98 [available at Google Books]; "Indiana labor commissioners severely critici[s]e importers of Colored miners," Alton Telegraph, 12/9/1897, p. 5; and "More Negro miners," The Indiana State Journal, 12/8/1897, p. 2.
  • Arkansas and the Indian Nation Territory - March 1899 -- The miners went on strike for better wages and working conditions. When the mine managers could not convince them to return to work, the coal companies came together and organized a group of agents who were dispatched to Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama to gather both white and Negro strikebreakers. The coal companies were the Choctaw Coal and Railroad Company, Southwestern Coal and Improvement Company, Kansas and Texas Coal Company, Central Coal and Improvement Company, and Western Coal and Mining Company. For more see A History of the Coal Miners of the United States, by A. Roy.
  • Mansfield, AR - April 1899 -- Federal court Judge Rogers issued an injunction that prevented striking miners at Huntington, AR from interfering with Negro miners imported from Kentucky to work in the mines owned by the Kansas and Texas Coal Company. The governor of Arkansas had instructed the sheriff of Huntington to stop all future transports of Negro miners from being unloaded within the state. Judge Rogers had the U.S. Marshals serve the sheriff with an injunction. See "Clash over Negroes," Hutchinson News, 4/25/1899, p. 2.
  • Evansville, IN - June 1899 - Sunnyside Mine -- Thirty Negro miners were approaching the mine when they were ambushed by armed striking miners. Armed guards returned fire. Two Negro miners were expected to die from their wounds, while the rest were sent back to Kentucky the following day. See "Strikes Elsewhere," The Independent (NY), June 29, 1899, vol. 51, issue 2639; and "Battle at a mining camp," New York Times, 6/22/1899, p. 2.
For more see The Negro Wage Earner, by L. J. Greene and Carter G. Woodson (quotation on p. 293); W. C. Whatley, "African-American strikebreaking from the Civil War to the New Deal," Social Science History, vol. 17, issue 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 525-558; Black Coal Miners in the United States by P. Nyden; and E. Arnesen, "Specter of the Black strikebreaker: race, employment, and labor activism in the industrial era," Labor History, vol. 44, issue 3 (August 2003), pp. 319-335.

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“Importing Negro Miners/Strikebreakers from Kentucky,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-10-18 11:54:55