Which Side Are You On?
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|"Which Side Are You On?"|
|Written by||Florence Reece|
|Lyrics by||Florence Reece|
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".
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.
Versions by other artists
- The Almanac Singers - Talking Union, in 1941.
- Pete Seeger - "Greatest Hits", in 1967.
- Spirituál kvintet - Za svou pravdou stát (Stand Behind Your Truth), translation to Czech language, in "Dostavník 18", 1983
- Dick Gaughan - True and Bold, in 1985.
- Deacon Blue - Riches & More, in 1997.
- Ella Jenkins - Ella Jenkins and a Union of Friends Pulling Together, in 1999.
- Blue Highway - Still Climbing Mountains"", in 2001.
- Dropkick Murphys - Sing Loud, Sing Proud!, in 2001, and, subsequently Live on St. Patrick's Day from Boston, MA, in 2002.
- Anne Feeney - Union Maid, in 2003.
- Natalie Merchant - The House Carpenter's Daughter, in 2003.
- Silas House - Songs for the Mountaintop, in 2006, and Public Outcry, in 2008
- The Nightwatchman - "Union Town", in 2011
- Ani DiFranco - ¿Which Side Are You On?, in 2012
- Rebel Diaz made a remix of the song
- Billy Bragg - Back to Basics, in 1987, albeit with different lyrics altogether. This referred to the British miners' strike of 1984-5.
- Frederic Rzewski
- Christian Wolff (composer) in "String Quartet Exercises Out of Songs #3 (1974)
- B. Dolan - sampled the Almanac Singers in his 2012 version on the album House of Bees Vol. 2
- In response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown protesters briefly interrupted a performance of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with the Requiem for Mike Brown, which began as "Which Side Are You On?"
In other media
- Which Side is a political podcast which took its name from the title of this song.
- 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.
- Which Side Are You On?
- Widdowson, J. D. A. (2012). "Book Reviews: They Say in Harlan County by Alessandro Portelli". Folklore 123 (3): 368–369. doi:10.1080/0015587X.2012.718483. Invalid
- Giegerich, Steve (October 6, 2014). "Michael Brown protesters interrupt St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved December 9, 2014.
- About - Which Side Podcast
- Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest part 1, 2003 documentary.