Friday, May 29, 2015

A Peek Into Coal Mining From Alabama to Pennsylvania

My recent journey took me into the history of coal mining from Alabama to Southern Pennsylvania where I was born. Natrona, Brackenridge and New Kensington has deep roots in the mining industry. Past research did not yield the details found this time.  New Kensington 1927 Directory listed where family members worked. Taking a look at Allegheny Steel Company and their history opened doors to situations that no doubt impacted some of my family.  This taught me the value of City and Town online Directories.

Robert Carroll is my great great paternal uncle that left his father's farm in north west Alabama and became a coal miner in Jefferson County.  Verbal history is that he had a disagreement with his father and left the farm.  Not sure how or why he pursued the mining industry for research revealed that often black men arrested were often leased out to these companies in Alabama.  No record has been found to indicate Robert had any problem with the law.  Robert was born in 1891 and was the fifth son of Henry Carroll/Cal and Celia Sherrod.  It is possible that he was seeking an adventure to find his own way and landed in the mining industry.  In 1920, he lived in Pratt City, Jefferson County, Alabama and was married to Rosa who was born in Tennessee.  Robert's brother, John had a brother in law Richard Copeland that was also living close to Robert in Pratt City and working in the mine.

By 1927, Robert and his wife as well as Richard were all living in New Kensington, Pennsylvania working at Allegheny Steel as laborers.  Robert's nephews, Richard and Howard were also living in New Kensington working at the same place as laborers.  A quick research of Allegheny Steel opened unexpected doors into the mining operations.  That is what research does.

Allegheny Steel was founded by Alfred Hicks, a Welsh immigrant before 1900.  His son, Lewis Hicks ran the coal operation and they had many mines around the country.  My focus was on the Allegheny-Kiskimineta Valley aka Alle-Kiski.  The United Mine Workers Association (UMWA) targeted the operations pursuing improved working wages and conditions.  Appears that originally English, Scots-Irish and German ancestry individuals left the farms for work in the mines.  The conditions were not acceptable and they began organizing a union to improve conditions.  The mine owners/operators resisted and one method used was to import people from outside of the region.  They were known as scabs and were of other nationalities.  The scabs were used as strikebreakers and the climate was not a good one.  Violence in strikes took place from 1916 to 1919.

Many African American were imported from Alabama with some knowing they were strikebreakers and other tricked into believing they had an opportunity for a better life.  This time period was very unstable in the mining industry and I wonder how my one great great uncle Robert made it working for Allegheny Steel to retirement.  Other family members left the company and returned to Alabama in the early 1930's.  I knew my Uncle Robert and now wish we could have a chat about his work and the work atmosphere.  

One woman I found interesting was Fannie Sellins (1872-1919) who was an activist for the union in the area. She was born in Louisiana, married and widowed in St. Louis.  Fannie was left with four children and worked in the garment industry.  She became an organizer for unionizing  the Garment industry then moved on to West Virginia where she was arrested then relocated to New Kensington actively involved in the UMWA.  Had no idea that a woman was so active in an industry that was male dominated.  She was killed while participating in a strike in August 1919. Some believe it was a conspiracy.

The journey of genealogy may take you where you have no idea you are going and you just keep following the path until a treasure is revealed.

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