Aunt Molly Jackson was ‘discovered’ by Theodore Dreiser after she sang her ‘Hungry Ragged Blues’ at a meeting of his Writers Committee investigating Kentucky’s Harlan County Mine War in late 1931 The brutal struggle was being waged by the Communist-led National Miners Union and Aunt Molly, a fifty year old midwife, singer and songwriter, a miner’s daughter, sister, and widow, NMU nurse and local organizer, testified and sang for the group in Bell County. Within weeks of that November 7, 1931 meeting she was singing to 20,000 people at strike solidarity rallies in New York City. There she met and recorded with Alan Lomax, who introduced her to the very beginnings of Greenwich Village’s folk scene. Moving to New York to record and continue her songwriting and political activity shortly after, she would influence a young Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and host of others. This letter to the Labor Defender was written in the month following her Pineville, Kentucky ‘debut.’
‘I Am from Kentucky Born’ by Aunt Molly Jackson from Labor Defender. Vol. 8 No. 1. January, 1932.
I AM from Kentucky. Borned and raised in the Kentucky coal fields. I know all about just how the coal miners and their famleys have hen treated by coal operators from the time I was old enuf to remember till this date. I will tell you a few sad storeys that has befell the coal miners in the last few weeks.
One is this. One of my own dear brothers was taken from his wife and three small children and placed in the county jail in Pineville, Bell County, Ky., charged with criminal syncalism when he sertenley was not guilty. The miners at Glendon mines and Straight Creek came out on strike on a count of the operator refusing to let them have a checkwayman to way their coal. My brother and seven of the other miners went to the operator and ask him to allow them a checkwayman and this made the operator so mad that he had my brother, W.M. Garland and seven other miners arrested and took them and put them in jail and would not allow them any bonds for six days. Then allowed them to fill bonds amounting to six thousand dollars each.
My brother and five other miners have filed bonds and one poor coal miner by the name of Ebbe Payne is still in jail. Payne has a wife and six children needing his seport. Payne’s wife came to me and told me her children were starving and that the operators had framed up a lot of lyes on her husband and had tuck him an’ put him behind the coald iron bars and her children were suffering all most death from hunger and coald.
Dear comrades, I have had a lot of heart rendering things happen to me. The next I shall tell you is this. On the same night after I had hen working all day long trying to get bond for my friend Payne, I had just got home and droped down in a chair an’ said to my husband, “Oh, my god, I am all most tired to death,” when some one rapped on my shack door and it was my own dear baby-brother running away from the deputy sherif and gun thugs to keep from bein’ tuck to jail for criminal synaclism when he was not gilty. But he knew he would be put in if they caught him. So J.C. Garland, my youngest brother, left his loving wife and four heart broken sisters and a dear loveing mother and two other brothers, to weep over his departure.
Not long a go a man an his wife were cooking at a soup house of the National Miners an the gun thugs came in an said, “The coal operator sent us down here to kill your husband an blow up this soup kitchen so if you want to save your life an’ your three children’s life, beat it, we’re going to kill your husband and dinamite hell out of this National Miners Union kitchen.”
Just after they had said this to the poor union miner’s wife these gun thugs shot the poor woman’s husban down dead by her side. Then the woman grabbed her baby up and ron away and the other two children after her.
So let us all unite together and fight starvation, wage cuts. Uniting is what it takes to win our libberty an freedom.
I remain your true friend and faithful worker.
BOUND DOWN IN PRISON
It is sad to be bound down in prison,
In a cold prison cell all alone,
With the cold iron bars all around me
And my head on a pillow of stone.
The coal operators and the bosses
Had me placed in this cold lonely jail;
I heard them tell the jailer this morning
They never would allow me any bail.
The coal operators and the bosses
Want to keep me in prison all my life,
But there is no use to count on losses,
I want you to take this letter to my wife.
I want her to know I am in prison,
Just as lonely as a poor man can be;
Go tell her to write me a letter
And send it to the dear old I.L.D.
This I.L.D. works for prisoners,
And I know they will work wonders for
Write and tell them I’m a Harlan County
Depending on the dear old I.L.D.
Labor Defender was published monthly from 1926 until 1937 by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Workers Party of America, and later Communist Party-led, non-partisan defense organization founded by James Cannon and William Haywood while in Moscow, 1925 to support prisoners of the class war, victims of racism and imperialism, and the struggle against fascism. It included, poetry, letters from prisoners, and was heavily illustrated with photos, images, and cartoons. Labor Defender was the central organ of the Scottsboro and Sacco and Vanzetti defense campaigns. Editors included T. J. O’ Flaherty, Max Shactman, Karl Reeve, J. Louis Engdahl, William L. Patterson, Sasha Small, and Sender Garlin.
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