Freedomways Reader: Prophets in Their Own Country

By Esther Cooper Jackson; Constance Pohl | Go to book overview

4
Memoirs of a Birmingham Coal Miner, No. 1, 1964

HENRY O. MAYFIELD

For more than twenty years, Henry Mayfield was a leading trade unionist in Alabama and a participant in civil rights struggles throughout the southern states. He completed this piece shortly before his death on December 31, 1963, when he was chairman of the board of FreedomwaysAssociates.

In the basic industries in the south we had to work under the worst conditions and got the lowest wages.

Take the coal miners who worked for the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company ( U.S. Steel). The conditions in the mines were very bad. Back in the early thirties we were loading coal by the ton. The company had handpicked men and gave them the contract which we had to work for the contractors. From week to week, or day to day, you never knew how much money you were going to make. Many days we stayed in the mines nine and ten hours and made only four or five dollars, sometimes less or nothing, because when you loaded a car you had no way of knowing how many tons of coal were in the car. You had to take the word of the company and the contractor. Many of the miners lived in the company's houses and had to trade at the

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