Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN The Big Bosses

FROM THE beginning the coal operators exercised absolute dominion over the towns they had built. Whether the new community was Lynch, with its concrete streets, modern brick hospital and schools and a population of nearly ten thousand, or a cluster of thirty or forty grimy shacks centering about a rickety commissary and tipple, the pattern was the same. The Big Bosses possessed the craftiness and the will to impose their rule upon their communities -- a rule which was to continue unweakened until the arrival of John L. Lewis's union organizers, and the coming of the New Deal.

The companies required their employees to live in their towns. Only when their last house sheltered an employee's family would they hire men who lived outside the camps. This requirement made it certain that within a few years the stockholders would receive back in rents from the houses and profits from the commissaries their whole investment in the mining operation. Assuming prosperity in the coalfields for a few years, the rents alone assured that the operation would be a profitable one.

The bigger coal camps sought municipal charters and soon were organized as incorporated cities complete with mayor, town councils, schools and police and fire departments. By so doing, the operators were able to control most of the property-tax dollars which they paid. Judges, council members, mayors and all their underlings were hand-picked in the offices of the company, and their official hiring in the City Hall was nothing more than a ratification of decisions previously made.

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