February 26, 2003
Coal miners making the news this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.
As we shiver in the cold wind, ice and snow of winter all of us are appreciative of a warm safe haven in which to escape the weather. Residents of Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the century also wished to escape the cold of winter but found the ability to do so hampered by the Oklahoma Coal Strike of 1899. Coal miners realized of course that the demand for coal increased dramatically in the winter months, and it was during that time period that most coal strikes occurred. Sometimes this winter strike tactic worked and sometimes it didn't, but in this week of 1899 miners in eastern Oklahoma decided to give it a try.
It was in this week of 1899 that hundreds of miners in Coalgate, Hartshorne, McAlester and surrounding areas walked off of the job. Among the demands of the workers were included a pay raise and the official recognition by the coal companies of the United Mine Workers of America, the union to which most of the striking miners belonged. Railroads, businessmen and concerned citizens hearing of the upcoming strike began to buy and hoarded the precious coal in great quantities but to no avail. With the great majority of the work force out on strike a shortage of coal for heat and business was inevitable.
The strike technically lasted less than a year as by the beginning of 1900 many of the miners were back at work with little or no improvement in their condition. A group of three hundred miners, however, led by labor organizer Peter Hanraty, kept the strike going intermittently for several years. Even with a reduced strike force and limited finances, Hanraty and his crew were able to stir up enough interest in the miners and trouble for the companies to successfully accomplish their goals of higher wages and the official recognition of the miners union: The United Mine Workers of America.
Miners in Oklahoma faced poor working conditions, low pay and the constant threat of death every work day. Mines in southeastern Oklahoma in the early 1900s have been called the most dangerous work places in the entire world for that time period. It was in this week of 1899 that Oklahoma miners stood up for what they believed in and for what they deserved, better pay and a recognition of their union.
I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.