The Autobiography of Mother Jones
It was about 1891 when I was down in Virginia. There was a strike in the Dietz mines and the boys had sent for me. When I got off the train at Norton a fellow walked up to me and asked me if I were Mother Jones.
“Yes, I am Mother Jones.”
He looked terribly frightened. “The superintendent told me that if you came down here he would blow out your brains. He said he didn’t want to see you ‘round these parts.”
“You tell the superintendent that I am not coming to see him anyway. I am coming to see the miners.”
As we stood talking a poor fellow, all skin and bones, joined us.
“Do you see those cars over there, Mother on the siding?” He pointed to cars filled with coal.
“Well, we made a contract with the coal company to fill those cars for so much, and after we had made the contract, they put lower bottoms in the cars, so that they would hold another ton or so. I have worked for this company all my life and all I have now is this old worn-out frame.” We couldn’t get a hall to hold a meeting. Every one was afraid to rent to us. Finally the colored people consented to give us their church for our meeting. Just as we were about to start the colored chairman came to me and said: “Mother, the coal company gave us this ground that the church is on. They have sent word that they will take it from us if we let you speak here.”
I would not let those poor souls lose their ground so I adjourned the meeting to the four corners of the public roads. When the meeting was over and the people had dispersed, I asked my co-worker, Dud Hado, a fellow from Iowa, if he would go with me up to the post office. He was a kindly soul but easily frightened.
As we were going along the road, I said, “Have you got a pistol on you?”
“Yes,” said he, “I’m not going to let any one blow your brains out.”
“My boy,” said I, it is against the law in this county to carry concealed weapons. I want you to take that pistol out and expose a couple of inches of it.”
As he did so about eight or ten gunmen jumped out from behind an old barn beside the road, jumped on him and said, “Now we’ve got you, you dirty organizer. They bullied us along the road to the town and we were taken to an office where they had a notary public and we were tried. All those blood-thirsty murderers were there and the general manager came in.
“Mother Jones, I am astonished,” said he. “What is your astonishment about!” said I. “That you should go into the house of God with anyone who carries a gun.”
“Oh that wasn’t God’s house,” said I. “That is the coal company’s house. Don’t you know that God Almighty never comes around to a place like this!”
He laughed and of course, the dogs laughed, for he was the general manager.
They dismissed any charges against me and they fined poor Dud twenty-five dollars and costs. They seemed surprised when I said I would pay it. I had the money in my petticoat.
I went over to a miner’s shack and asked his wife for a cup of tea. Often in these company-owned towns the inn-keepers were afraid to let me have food. The poor soul was so happy to have me there that she excused herself to “dress for company.” She came out of the bedroom with a white apron on over her cheap cotton wrapper.
One of the men who was present at Dud’s trial followed me up to the miner’s house. At first the miner’s wife would not admit him but he said he wanted to speak privately to Mother Jones. So she let him in.
“Mother,” he said, “I am glad you paid that bill so quickly. They thought you’d appeal the case. Then they were going to lock you both up and burn you in the coke ovens’ at night and then say that you had both been turned loose in the morning and they didn’t know where you had gone.”
Whether they really would have carried out their plans I do not know. But I do know that there are no limits to which powers of privilege will not go to keep the workers in slavery.