Which side are you on?

The new Ani DiFranco album, “Which Side Are You On?” calls to the great union song of the same title, written by Florence Reece, wife of Sam Reece, a coal miner and organizer during the bloody strike of 1931 in Harlan County. Since the (still untitled) novel I’m writing now culminates in the 1911 garment workers strike, I’m drawn to the song.

Pete Seeger’s liner notes for a recording tell of its genesis. Sam Reece had been warned that Sheriff J.H. Blair, hired by the mine owners, was coming for him. Sam left out the back door and soon after, the sheriff’s men burst in the front, jabbing their guns into beds, closets, even piles of laundry. One of the little girls started crying and the sheriff snapped: “What are you crying for? We’re not after you, we’re after your old man.” When the men left, Florence Reece tore off a calendar page and wrote the song to an old Baptist hymn.

Here’s Pete Seeger singing “Which side are you on?” with memorable images, good to remember when workers’ rights are so widely dismissed.

Which Side Are You On?

Come all of you good workers,
Good news to you I’ll tell,
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

chorus
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner,
And I’m a miner’s son,
And I’ll stick with the union,
Till every battle’s won.

They say in Harlan County,
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man,
Or a thug for J.H. Blair.

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab,
Or will you be a man ?

Don’t scab for the bosses,
Don’t listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance,
Unless we organize.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

Posted in WWWS

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Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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