This is the "Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Project" page of the "Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Oral History Project" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Oral History Project  

This guide will help you find primary source oral history interviews pertaining to the Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields.
Last Updated: Aug 28, 2013 URL: http://libguides.uky.edu/SCOHRoving Print Guide Email Alerts
Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Project Print Page
  Search: 
 
 

Annotated Guide to the Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Oral History Project: Part I

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

Guide Compiled by Suzanne Maggard

Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek

2006

87OH166 APP 89

BRUCE STEPHENS, JR.

Date:  August 18, 1987

Location:  Hazard, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  None

 Bruce Stephens, Jr., an attorney for the Kentucky River Coal Company, discusses the Roving Pickets Movement in Perry and Letcher counties in Kentucky.  He maintains that this was a last-ditch effort by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to organize eastern Kentucky.  He asserts that the union publicly denied any connection with the Roving Pickets by saying that the UMWA could not be associated with the violence and illegal activities perpetrated by the pickets. Stephens states that if the union had publicly acknowledged it was sponsoring the roving pickets’ movement, it would have been open to lawsuits by coal companies.  In fact, he remembers that on at least two occasions coal companies successfully sued the union for damages to company property caused by roving pickets.

Other topics Mr. Stephens discusses in this interview include economic development in eastern Kentucky, the region’s future, and the need for improvement in public education.  Mr. Stephens is pessimistic about eastern Kentucky ever being able to attract industry other than coal mining.  Rather than trying to attract new industry, Stephens believes that eastern Kentucky should place even more emphasis on coal, the one resource it has in abundance.  To improve education Stephens suggest that changes should be made in the election process of school board members, including requiring board members to have a college education.

 

87OH167 APP 90

CLAYTON TURNER

Date:  August 19, 1987

Location:  Combs, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript: No

Restrictions: None

Clayton Turner describes his involvement with the roving pickets’ movement in the 1960s.  He states that the movement began in Harlan Country and then spread northward into Perry and Letcher counties.  He became involved with the Roving Pickets after moving from Lynch, Kentucky to Perry County, Kentucky.  Turner maintains that the roving pickets’ movement was a union-sponsored activity.

Turner also discusses the Roving Pickets’ Washington trip in 1963.  A bus filled with miners traveled to Washington to see the president.  Unfortunately they were unable to meet with him, but they did speak with several key members of Congress and other federal officials.  Turner believes that it was this trip that brought some relief to the people of Perry County.  Food and clothing were donated to miners, and federal work programs such as the Unemployed Fathers Program (“Happy Pappy”) began shortly after the Washington trip.

Turner also talks about the violence associated with the roving pickets’ movement.  Although he was sent to prison for his part in a conspiracy to dynamite a railroad bridge in Perry County, he maintains that not all the violence during that time period can be attributed to the Roving Pickets.  He states that coal operators often blew up coal tipples and mining machinery to collect insurance and to turn public opinion against the pickets.

Other topics Turner discusses include the treatment of the Roving Pickets by law enforcement officials and Charlie Combs, the High Sheriff of Perry County.  It seems that in addition to being sheriff, Combs was also a coal operator.  Turner claims that Combs was particularly brutal in his dealings with the Roving Pickets.  He remembers an incident when Combs arrested a man because his brother was a Roving Picket, and another time when Combs and his deputies opened fire on two men who were hunting near a coal mine.

 

87OH168 APP 91

BUSTER HORNE

Date:  August 24, 1987

Location:  Whitesburg, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  40 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good  

Transcript:  No

Restrictions: None

Buster Horne, a resident of Whitesburg, Kentucky and coal miner, discusses his role in the roving pickets’ movement in Letcher and Perry counties.  He maintains that the roving pickets’ movements was a United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) sponsored activity to organize the non-union coal mines of eastern Kentucky, but states that the union could not publicly associate itself with the Roving Pickets because the pickets engaged in some activities that were violent and illegal.  Coal companies could have brought legal action against the UMWA had it acknowledge its connection with the Roving Pickets.

Horne also discusses the Washington trip during which miners traveled to Washington to bring the plight of the unemployed miners to the attention of the federal government.  He states that this trip was connected to the later War on Poverty.  Horne states that not long after the Washington trip, the “Happy Pappy” or Unemployed Father Work Program brought some relief to eastern Kentucky.

Horne describes the leader of the Roving Pickets, Berman Gibson.  He remembers Gibson as a good speaker who could move his audience.  Horne addresses the violence associated with the movement, and comments that he believes that this period was one of the most violent in eastern Kentucky history.   Horne also states that despite the charges, the Roving Pickets were not communists. 

 

87OH169 APP 92

JOSEPH A. SCOPA

Date:  June 16, 1987

Location:  Totz, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript: No 

Restrictions:  None

Joseph Scopa talks about his activities in both the Roving Pickets and the Miners for Democracy movements.  He states that the movement began as a result of “sweetheart deals” between union field representatives and local coal operators in Harlan and Bell counties.  Under the terms of the contracts some operators were exempted from paying certain duties and royalties to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  He describes how the Roving Pickets would meet at a predetermined location, usually the miners’ hospital or the union hall, and then decide what mines in Harlan and Bell counties they would attempt to shut down.

Scopa believes that the UMWA “sold [the Roving Pickets] out.”  He recalls that District 19 officials, among them President Albert Pass, told the pickets that they would support them in their attempt to close mines in Harlan and Bell Counties.  When the pickets began closing mines around the area, however, District 19 officials began broadcasting messages on several local radio stations proclaiming that the pickets were not associated with the UMWA.  Scopa remembers that the Roving Pickets felt betrayed by the union many of them had worked hard to establish.

Scopa describes his later involvement with the Miners for Democracy movement in the early 1970s.  He maintains that this revolt by the rank-and-file within the union resulted because miners wanted the right to elect leaders of local unions.  Previously field representatives and other district officials were appointed by national leaders.  Scopa believes that electing leaders would make them more accountable to the rank-and-file.

 

87OH170 APP 93

W.P. "BILL" MORTON

Date:  July 30, 1987

Location:  Hazard, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

W.P. (Bill) Morton, owner of the Hazard Home Lumber Company in Hazard, Kentucky, recalls the roving pickets’ movement of the early 1960s.  He believes that the movement occurred because miners wanted to improve their conditions.  They wanted better wages and safer mines.  Morton explains that things got out of hand when the strikers paralyzed everything in the Hazard area and businesses were severely hurt.  Morton states that Hazard businessmen then joined together to form the Citizen’s Committee for Law and Order.  This organization was dedicated to fighting the Roving Pickets including defeating politicians who supported them.  Morton describes the Citizen’s Committee’s campaign against Judge Courtney C. Wells in his bid for election for circuit court judge.  Morton maintains that Wells was tough on criminals, but that he was too lenient on labor.  Wells lost the election by one vote and sued Morton for libel.  Morton states that the case was dismissed, but still accuses Wells of hand-picking his juries.

Morton also discusses industrial development in Appalachia.  Morton explains that he is chairman of a group of businessmen who are attempting to bring more industry to Appalachia.  Morton explains that he believes that the reason mountain communities do not have more industry is because they never seriously tried to attract it.     

 

87OH171 APP 94

LOUISE HATMAKER

Date:  July 30, 1987

Location:  Hazard, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Ms. Louise Hatmaker is the owner, editor, and operator of both the Jackson Times and the Beattyville Enterprise.  She was a reporter for the Hazard Herald during the roving pickets’ movement.  Hatmaker maintains that the men on the picket line did not understand what the movement was all about, and she sees the movement in a negative light.  She holds Berman Gibson, the leader of the Roving Pickets in Perry County responsible for most of the violence associated with the movement.  She states that Gibson used the miners to further his own personal interests.  Hatmaker describes the Roving Pickets as a band of outlaws who rode around the town square in Hazard terrorizing the citizens.

Ms. Hatmaker also discusses the stories that she wrote as a reporter for the Hazard Herald that described communists in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  She maintains that communist organizations supported the strikers and cites evidence from the communist newspapers, Daily Worker and Progressive Labor to support her claim.  Hatmaker believes that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) was behind the movement and provided the strikers with funding.  Hatmaker also recalls reporters from national news organizations who came to Hazard, especially a crew from CBS.

Hatmaker describes the newspaper business as a whole in eastern Kentucky.  She recalls how she became involved in the newspaper business, first as a reporter for the Hazard Herald and then as owner of the Jackson Times and Beattyville Enterprise.  She also discusses advancements in technology in the newspaper business 

 

87OH172 APP 95

ERNEST HELTON

Date:  July 19, 1987

Location:  Rowe, Virginia

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

During the early 1960s Ernest Helton worked in various coal mines in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia during the time of the Roving Pickets.  Helton was a union miner and at a local union meeting in Buchanan County, Virginia two men from Hazard, Kentucky convinced the Virginia miners to shut down a non-union mine in Buchanan County.  Although the president of the local union felt that it was wrong, the miners went anyway.  Helton recalls the trouble that ensued as the operator pulled a gun on the pickets as they approached the mine.  Helton also discusses the transformation of the coal industry since the time he started working.  He describes Appalachian life when he was young, and the experience of life in a coal camp.

 

87OH173 APP 96

LEE SEXTON

Date:  July 26, 1987

Location:  Blackey, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  No

Lee Sexton, a retired miner from Lime Fork Creek just outside of Blackey, Kentucky, talks extensively about his activities as a Roving Picket in the early 1960s.  He maintains that the roving pickets’ movement was a United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) sponsored effort to shut down non-union mines in Letcher and Perry counties in Kentucky.  Sexton recalls the process of picketing.  He states that the pickets would meet at a predetermined location, and once there decide what mine they would try to close down that day.  He recalls that the police treated the pickets very badly in those days, and states that he still has outstanding warrants against him.  The charges were apparently forgotten after the roving pickets’ movement ended.  Sexton also remembers that even some of his friends were not very kind when they found out he was a picket.  He had water thrown in his face and was cursed.

Sexton also discusses his career as a mountain musician.  He has traveled across the country playing the banjo at folk music festivals, and has cut an album with JuneAppal, the recording division of Appalshop in Whitesburg.  Sexton states that he plays the banjo the old fashioned way.

 

87OH174 APP 97

CHESTER PHILPOTT

Date:  July 7, 1987

Location:  Pineville, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Chester Philpott was a union miner who was involved in the roving pickets’ movement in Harlan and Bell counties in Kentucky.  According to Mr. Philpott, the roving pickets’ movement resulted from an attempt by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to organize non-union miners in District 19.  Mr. Philpott maintains that he knew nothing about sweetheart contracts that some local unions signed contract exempting small operators from paying the forty cents per ton royalty into the UMWA’s health and retirement fund.

Philpott also discusses his activities as a field representative for the UMWA.  He talks about helping resolve grievances between miners and operators, and about his role in organizing mines for the UMWA.  Philpott remembers the murder of Joseph “Jock” Yablonski and the conviction of District 19 President Albert Pass for his part in the conspiracy.

 

87OH175 APP 98

JOSEPH A. SCOPA

Date:  July 16, 1987

Location:  Totz, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  40 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

In this second interview with Joseph Scopa, he discusses his role in the roving pickets’ movement of the early 1960s in more detail.  He talks about the sweetheart contracts that union field representatives were making with coal operators.  Under the terms of these contracts some operators were exempt from paying the forty cents per ton royalty to the union’s health and retirement fund.  Scopa maintains that these agreements were not fair and that the Roving Pickets were formed to stop such practices.

Mr. Scopa later played a prominent role in the Miners for Democracy movement which formed after the murder of Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, a union official.  He was directly responsible for bringing Arnold Miller to Evarts, Kentucky to speak to miners there.  Scopa also talks about the violence and threats directed against him, his family, and his property as a result of his revolt against the union officials in District 19 who had planned the assassination of Yablonski.

 

Annotated Guide to the Roving Pickets in the Kentucky Coal Fields Oral History Project: Part II

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

87OH176 APP 99

ROBERT MCDONALD

Date:  June 23, 1987

Location:  Lynch, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Robert McDonald was a coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky.  He describes the changes in mechanization that he witnessed during his mining career, and then discusses his views of the Roving Pickets in Harlan County.  McDonald discusses his role in the movement and recalls informing the state police each time the pickets went on a trip so they would protect the pickets.  McDonald states that he knew little about the “sweetheart contracts” that the mines and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) signed to enable the mines to avoid paying royalties to the UMWA’s health and retirement fund.  Although these deals prompted action by the Roving Pickets in other parts of Kentucky, McDonald states that the Roving Pickets in Harlan County were concerned with unionizing the “scab” mines.  McDonald also recalls the trip that he and several other residents of Harlan County made to talk with government officials about the poverty and unemployment in southeastern Kentucky.  Because of this trip, McDonald insists that the federal government began to fund work programs for unemployed miners. 

 

87OH177 APP 100

ROBERT GRUBBS

Date:  June 25, 1987

Location:  Cawood, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  50 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Robert Grubbs, a Holiness minister who was once a Roving Picket, describes working underground in coal mines throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  He discusses the change he witnessed in the industry.  Grubbs began working in the mines when coal was primarily hand loaded into buggies, but by the time he quit, most mines had started using joy loaders and scoops to mine coal.

Grubbs also discusses his experience as a Roving Picket.  He traveled from mine to mine in an attempt to close mines not paying the royalty to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) health and retirement fund.  Grubbs remembers that the pickets would meet at the union hall or the miners’ hospital to decide which mine they would picket that day.  During the movement Grubbs traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal officials concerning the massive unemployment in Harlan County, and he describes this trip. 

 

87OH178 APP 101

HAZEL BAILEY

Date:  June 26, 1987

Location:  Krypton, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  30 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Hazel Bailey talks about her husband’s, Bill Bailey, activities as a Roving Picket.  Bill Bailey was actually a leader in the movement.  Although Mrs. Bailey does not know many specific details about the events that occurred during the roving pickets’ movement., she does remember that he was “a union man all the way” and that he “really hated a ‘scab.’”  Mrs. Bailey also describes a group of student volunteers who brought her a large amount of food and with whom she had a good time.

 

87OH179 APP 102

BIGE HENSLEY

Date:  June 25, 1987

Location:  Krypton, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  40 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Bige Hensley was not a coal miner, but he did take part in the roving pickets’ movement.  He became involved through the influence of his father-in-law, Bill Bailey, who was an ardent supporter of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  Although Hensley was not privy to the internal workings of the leadership of the movement, he did witness police brutality.  He describes being arrested by two railroad detectives after hauling several cases of dynamite and nitroglycerine to a railroad bridge in the trunk of his car.  Mr. Hensley states that he was forced to sit in a police car all night and most of the following day before being lodged in the Perry County jail.  Hensley and three accomplices were sentenced to prison.  He served about a year before being paroled.  Hensley maintains that Berman Gibson, the leader of the Roving Pickets in the Hazard/Perry County area, betrayed the pickets and informed the police of the plan to destroy the railroad bridge.  Hensley also talks about Charlie Combs, the Sheriff of Perry County during the roving pickets’ movement and a coal operator.  Hensley states that Combs gave the pickets a hard time.  He harassed them on the picket lines and brought trumped up charges against them.

 

87OH180 APP 103

HOBERT MAGGARD

Date:  June 26, 1987

Location:  Yerkes, Kentucky 

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  45 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Hobert Maggard, a Roving Picket and community organizer in Perry County, Kentucky, talks extensively about the Roving Pickets and his role in organizing community action programs in Perry County.  Maggard believes that the roving pickets’ movement began long before 1959.  He states that striking miners roamed throughout Appalachia during the 1940s and 1950s.  Maggard highlights the tactics the Roving Pickets employed in closing mines throughout eastern Kentucky.  Maggard says that at first the pickets would attempt to convince men to join the pickets by talking to them.  If the men refused, rougher tactics were used including burning down tipples, blowing up a railroad bridge or loading dock, and even setting coal stockpiles on fire.  “Then,” says Maggard, “the bullheaded ones weren’t so bullheaded anymore.”  He explains that women were also involved in the roving pickets’ movement.  He describes how his mother led five hundred women on the picket lines.

Maggard also describes his work with the Unemployed Fathers Program (“Happy Pappy”), a federal work program of the War on Poverty during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Maggard spent nineteen months with the “Happy Pappy” Program during which time he was involved in a work stoppage to protest the federal government’s termination of an employee after he completed a training course at an education center.  Maggard describes the protest and states that it resulted in satisfactory jobs for the protestors. Maggard discusses his work as a community organizer. 

 

87OH181 APP 104

GARLAND DAVIS

Date:  June 27, 1986

Location:  Short Gap, Virginia

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Garland Davis was a coal miner in southwest Virginia, and he describes attending a one-room schoolhouse as a child.  He recalls the changes that he has seen during his employment as a miner.  He describes hand loading coal into three-tiered buggies when he first started working in mining.  By the time he was laid off in 1985, he was mining coal with a continuous miner.  Davis blames the excessive mechanization of the mines for the high unemployment rate in Appalachia, and expresses his concern for the future. Although he worked in a coal mine during the roving pickets’ movement, Davis is not sure if the movement operated in southwest Virginia

 

87OH182 APP 105

ROSCOE DAVIS

Date:  June 27, 1987

Location:  Cedar Bluff, Virginia

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour 20 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Roscoe Davis worked as a coal miner and truck driver in southwest Virginia.  He did not have any experience with the Roving Pickets and does not remember any activity by the Roving Pickets in southwest Virginia.  Instead, he provides information on his experiences in the coal mines and about growing up in the mountains.

Davis remembers how different conditions were in Appalachia while he was growing up.  He recalls helping his mother and father can food for the winter.  He describes hunting for food, and using pine knots and carbide lamps for light.  Davis attended school in a one-room schoolhouse and remembers the games that he played as a child.

Davis worked as a coal truck driver for more than forty years.  Although he started his career working underground in the mines, he states that he found that too scary.  Davis talks about hauling coal in the 1950s and 1960s on small trucks that had little more than a pick-up truck engine.  He recalls the bad brake systems, and states that if a trucker lost his brakes in those days, he was doomed.  During his career Davis has driven every kind of coal truck.

 

87OH183 APP 106

DARRELL CAMPBELL

Date:  July 31, 1987

Location:  Raven, Virginia

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Darrell Campbell, a native of Hazard, Kentucky, discusses in detail the roving pickets’ movement of the early 1960s in Perry County, Kentucky. He talks about Charlie Combs, the High Sheriff of Perry County, who he believes mistreated the Roving Pickets, and Berman Gibson, the leader of the Roving Pickets.  Campbell sees Gibson as a charismatic man who could evoke feeling from his audience.  He also discusses the role of women on the picket lines and maintains that women were sometimes more effective on the picket lines than the men.

Campbell recalls the discussion to make a trip to Washington, D.C. in January of 1963.  He states that miners met with several prominent governmental officials while in Washington, including Albert Gore, Sr., Carl D. Perkins, and Jennings Randolph.  Campbell believes that federal programs to bring relief to the unemployed in Perry County resulted from the Roving Pickets trip to Washington including the Unemployed Fathers Program (“Happy Pappy”). 

Campbell explains the background of the roving pickets’ movement.  He states that the United Mine Workers of American (UMWA) decided to close the miners’ hospitals it operated throughout eastern Kentucky, which left miners without health insurance and created feelings of outrage.  Another important topic Campbell discusses deals with the charges of communism leveled against Roving Pickets by coal operators and newspapers.  He explains that he knew no communists in the roving pickets’ movement.

 

87OH184 APP 107

HUGH JONES

 Date:  August 13, 1987

Location:  Cumberland, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:   No

Restrictions:  None

Hugh Jones, a retired miner and United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) official, discusses his role in the roving pickets’ movement of the 1960s.  He recalls that this was a particularly rough time and that there was violence in Harlan County.  Jones states that the trouble began when the UMWA gave certain mines “sweetheart” contracts, which allowed them to pay less than their share of the union fees.  Jones states that the miners were simply attempting to re-establish the power of the union in Harlan County, a county that the union had once dominated.  Jones maintains that law enforcement officials generally opposed the Roving Pickets, and harassed them as they attempted to close mines throughout Harlan and Bell counties.  Jones also describes where the pickets met and how they planned their protest.

 

87OH185 APP 108

ORVILLE SARGENT

Date:  August 14, 1987

Location:  Totz, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Doug Cantrell

Length:  1 hour

Audio Conditions:  Good 

Transcript:  No

Restrictions:  None

Orville Sargent, a longtime resident of Harlan County, Kentucky talks extensively about his work as a coal miner.  He was one of the men who originally organized Harlan County for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in the 1930s.  He describes gun toting thugs patrolling the streets and hollows of Harlan County to prevent the union from getting a firm foothold.  He also talks about the now famous Battle of Evarts, the murder of two union organizers, and about lesser-known battles between miners and the operators’ hired gunmen.  Unfortunately, Sargent recalls little of the roving pickets’ movement because he was not part of it. 

Description

Loading  Loading...

Tip