Which Side Are You On?

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"Which Side Are You On?"
Written by Florence Reece
Lyrics by Florence Reece
Written 1931
Language English

"Which Side Are You On?" is a song written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky.

In 1931, the miners and the mine owners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle (called the Harlan County War). In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men (hired by the mining company) illegally entered their family home in search of Sam Reece. Sam had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to "Which Side Are You On?" on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, "Lay the Lily Low", or the traditional ballad "Jack Munro".[1]

Reece supported a second wave of miner strikes circa 1973, as recounted in the documentary Harlan County USA. She and others performed "Which Side Are You On?" a number of times throughout. Reece recorded the song later in life, and it can be heard on the album Coal Mining Women.

The song is referred to by Bob Dylan in the song "Desolation Row". It was also the inspiration for the title of Alessandro Portelli's 2011 book on Harlan County's coal mining community.[2]

Versions by other artists[edit]

Other versions[edit]

Appearances[edit]

In other media[edit]

  • Which Side is a political podcast which took its name from the title of this song.[4]
  • Alessandro Portelli's book They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (Oxford University Press, 2010) takes its title from a line of the song. Another book by John W. Hevener, Which Side Are You On? The Harlan County Coal Miners, 1931–39 (University of Illinois Press, 2002) is also titled after the song.

References[edit]