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Howard Rees - Strikes

Howard Rees - Strikes Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Howard Rees: I recall two strikes, although there was a strike before I was born. And in the one before I was born, my Uncle Isaac and my Uncle Tom had to leave the area because at that time if you were a striker, you were harassed by the company, who brought in —I think they called them "toughies" — who would track down strikers and beat them up. Uncle Tom and Uncle Isaac had to leave the area for a while until it was safe and the strike was over. Also it was not unusual to be blacklisted--that is, you could no longer be employed by the company. So you would go to another company and you could be employed there. But this was the common practice.

The strike that I remember, I guess I was about eight years of age, of course you have to understand the tension and the bitterness and the anger in the community of people who could see others going to work and making a living while the strikers were staying at home and trying to fight for a higher wage. The wages and the conditions were pretty bad, especially compensation for in juries — almost unknown —so that whenever a strike came, it would rip a community apart.

I remember a colorful character in our town, an Italian whose name was Big Fred. Big Fred was an Italian immigrant who happened to be in the area where one of the top bosses in the company was standing, looking over one of the mines when a striker, who was angered and embittered, pulled a gun and tried, to shoot the executive. Big Fred saw the man raising the gun and he jumped in front of the executive, and he took the bullet. Of course, to the company, Big Fred became quite a hero and from that time on had a job for life doing practically nothing, but just going to work and looking important.

When a strike came, about 20 scabs — strike breakers - went to live at Big Fred's house. They enlarged the house. The house was located on Main Street, just beyond Grant, looking towards Eckhart Flat. On top of the house Big Fred had mounted a machine gun on a swivel because the miners would walk by the house and call out all sorts of threats, and the coal miners would be inside quite frightened, because the strikers would have baseball bats and rocks in their hands and they meant business.

Every morning Big Fred would take the 20 or so coal miners to work and he would walk down Main Street down past our house. He would be in front with a gun and behind him would be marching the scabs, looking both right and left because they knew a brick could appear in the air and they could be hurt. I remember so vividly the descriptions of the people trying to get at the scabs without being hurt by Big Fred's gun.

The next strike I remember, they were tearing up the street, the road, from our house, which was at the corner of Main and Bowery, and they were putting in a new pavement up top-town, so there were bricks piled up on both sides on the pavement where people walked, leaving a narrow area for people to walk because the bricks were piled up. Sometimes the strikers would come to town, of course they always came in a bunch, and they would be on one side of the street, the scabs would be on the other, and they would be in a bunch. They'd start calling names at each other and throwing the bricks across and trying to hit each other. And of course they hit houses and everything else. Whenever we would hear them coming —we would hear them coming by their shouts — my mother would make certain all her children were inside the house.


Howard Rees

Elizabeth Rees Gilbert

The View of Frostburg, Maryland 1905 was drawn and published by T. M. Fowler. It is from the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

There was a mine called Mine No. 9 of the Consolidation Coal Co. near Frostburg, Allegany Co., MD so it is possibly this mine Mr. Rees is referring to.


Collection Location:
Garrett College, McHenry.

Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.

Western Maryland, 1930-1980

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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