Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter


Malvina Reynolds took inspiration for this song from a letter that was published in ‘Labor News’:

Scuddy, Kentucky, January 21, 1963
Dear Editor:

I recently read a magazine of yours about the labor unrest in Perry County and surrounding counties. I would like very much to get one of these magazines to send to my son in the service. I don’t have any money to send you for it, but would you please send me one anyway?

I am a coal miner’s wife. I have been married 26 years to a coal miner and you can’t find a harder worker than a coal miner. We have been treated so unfair by our leaders from the sheriff up to the president. I know what it is to be hungry.

My husband has been out of work for 14 months. He worked at a union mine at Leatherwood. Now the company has terminated the union contract (UMWA) and plans to go back to work with scab workers. It isn’t just here that all this is happening. The company will say they have to close as they are going in the hole. Then they will re-open with scab laborers that will work for practically nothing as long as the boss smiles at them and gives them a pat on the back. These men just don’t realize the amount of people they are hurting or just don’t care.

The operators have the money and the miner doesn’t have anything but a bad name. You couldn’t find better people anywhere in the whole world. But we have our pride too. We are tired of doing without. The operators have beautiful homes, Cadillacs and aeroplanes to enjoy, and our houses (camp houses, by the way) look like barns.

We don’t want what the operators have. All we want is a decent wage and good insurance that will help our families. Is this too much to ask?

The operators wouldn’t go in a mine for $50 a day. I’ve seen my husband come home from work with his clothes frozen to his body from working in the water. I have sat down at a table where we didn’t have anything to eat but wild greens picked from the mountain side. There are three families around me, that each family of seven only had plain white gravy and bread for a week is true. Is this progress or what? I just can’t understand it.

I have two sons that go to school and they don’t even have decent clothes to wear. No one knows our feelings and I’m quite sure the coal operators don’t care as long as they get that almighty dollar. Of all the things that were sent here to the helping fund (Editor’s Note: This is the “relief” fund administered by the Hazard newspaper. See story, January PL.) not one of these needy families received a thing nor did anyone here in camp. Where did it all go? Somebody got a real good vacation with it I suppose. All the newspapers are against us because of political pressure, but our day is coming.

The government talks of re-training. My husband went into the mines in Alabama at the age of 11 with only the second grade of schooling. How could he retrain now, and him 52? It is silly to even think this will help the older miner. All the state thinks about is building up the tourist trade. How will that help us? It would just put more money in the big shots’ pockets – not ours. No one would want to spend money to come here for a vacation to see the desolate mine camps and ravaged hills.

Happy A.B. Chandler lost his election by siding against the laboring class of people; by sending the State Militia and State Police (by Don Steirgill, then head of the State Police) in here to use as strikebreakers in 1959. Wilson Wyatt lost because of Governor Combs doing the same thing, only in a more subtle way. How can he hope to get elected to the Senate? How does he think Ed Breathitt will fare by endorsing him?

The truth will out someday. I’m sorry I have rambled on like this. It just seems so unjust, especially to the poor.

Please, sir, could you send me a magazine? Thank you sincerely,

Mrs. Clara Sullivan, Scuddy, Kentucky, Perry County

My thanks to Melvina Reynolds, Pete Seeger, and Susannes Folksong-Notizen for the reminder.

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