Labor History in 2:00

January 26 Sid Hatfield Stands Trial for Standing up for Workers

January 26, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1921.

That was the day Sid Hatfield and 22 other defendants went on trial for the murder of detective Albert Felts.

Hatfield was Chief of Police in Matewan, West Virginia when the United Mine Workers came to Mingo County to organize coal miners.

The Stone Mountain Coal Company moved to smash union activity.

They brought in Baldwin-Felts detectives to evict union miners from company housing.

Hatfield supported the miners’ right to organize and urged locals to arm themselves.

He confronted the detectives at the train depot as they were leaving town for the evening about the evictions they had just carried out.

The detectives presented Hatfield with a phony arrest warrant.

Surrounded by armed miners, a gun battle ensued, leaving at least 7 detectives and 4 townspeople dead, in what is referred to as the Matewan Massacre.

The trial was set in the Mingo County seat of Williamson, where Baldwin-Felts agents lined the streets to intimidate those sympathetic to Hatfield and the others.

The prosecution hoped to prove that Felts’ murder was premeditated and used the testimony of paid spies who had previously attempted to gain Hatfield’s trust and friendship.

According to historian James Green, author of The Devil Is Here In These Hills, “the ACLU had advised defense attorneys to turn the trial into a prosecution of the coal operators by introducing in evidence the entire record of their conspiracy to deny the citizens of West Virginia of their legal rights.”

The defense successfully discredited these paid agents and won acquittal.

When Hatfield and his deputies arrived back in Matewan, they were greeted as heroes by the entire town.

Hatfield however had a target on his back and would be gunned down a year later, sparking a coal war which ended with The Battle of Blair Mountain.

 

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