Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Folk song

Which Side Are You On?

Story behind the song

In 1931, a coal strike in Harlan County, Kentucky broke out in violence between mine owners and hired police on one side and coal miners on the other. Armed company deputies roamed the Kentucky countryside, looking for union leaders to beat, jail, or kill.

Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men went to the house of union organizer Sam Reece hoping to arrest him and bring him to jail. Sam wasn't there. His wife Florence was alone with their seven children. Not long after that terrifying experience, she wrote the words to this song to the tune of an old hymn.

Which Side Are You On?

Florence Reese, tune hymn “Lay the Lily Low,” 1931

Come all of you good workers, good news to you I’ll tell,
Of how the good old union has come in here to dwell.

Chorus:
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner, and I’m a miner’s son,
And I’ll stick with the union, till every battle’s won.

Chorus

They say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man, or a thug for J.H. Blair.

Chorus

Oh, workers, can you stand it? Oh, tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab, or will you be a man?

Chorus.

Don’t scab for the bosses, don’t listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance, unless we organize.

Chorus

 

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