Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-21
- List Price: $49.95
- Binding: Hardcover
- Publisher: Univ of Illinois Pr
- Publish date: 05/01/2001
In this lucid and supremely readable study, Brian Kelly challenges the prevailing notion that white workers were the main source of resistance to racial equality in the Jim Crow South. Focusing on a period framed by two major coalfield strikes, this important volume presents new evidence of the role white elites played in fomenting racial discord at the bottom of southern society.
Supported by the voices of the coal miners, trade unionists, and mine operators of early twentieth-century Birmingham, Alabama, Kelly chronicles the hard-fought strike of 1908, during which black and white miners came together in a practical alliance. After breaking the strike, the region's powerful industrialists consolidated their control, combining techniques anchored in the discriminatory and paternalistic structure of the Old South with northern-inspired welfare capitalism to hold wages to the lowest levels in the country.
When the demand for labor brought on by World War I shifted the balance of power and rejuvenated mineworkers' militancy, the operators panicked, resorting to race-baiting, coercion, and vigilantism to combat the threat of black and white unity. In the lead-up to the dramatic 1920 strike, the employers were aided in their efforts to split the workforce by Birmingham's small but influential black middle class, whose espousal of industrial accommodation outraged black miners and revealed significant tensions within the African-American community.