Florence Reece

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Florence Patton Reece
BornApril 12, 1900
Sharps Chapel, Tennessee
DiedAugust 3, 1986 (aged 86)
Knoxville, Tennessee
Occupationpoet, songwriter, labor and civil rights activist
Spouse(s)Sam Reece

Florence Reece (1900–1986) was an American social activist, poet, and folksong writer. She is best known for the song "Which Side Are You On?" which she wrote in 1931, on the back of a calendar, during the Harlan County strike.


Florence Reece (née Patton; born April 12, 1900, died August 3, 1986) was an American social activist, poet, and folksong writer. Born in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, the daughter and wife of coal miners, she is best known for the song "Which Side Are You On?". According to folklorist Alan Lomax who collected it from her in 1937, she wrote the song in 1931, during the Harlan County War strike by the United Mine Workers of America and the National Miners Union in which her husband, Sam Reece, was an organizer.[1]

Pete Seeger, collecting labor union songs, learned "Which Side Are You On" in 1940. The following year, it was recorded by the Almanac Singers in a version that gained a wide audience. More recently, Billy Bragg, Dropkick Murphys, Natalie Merchant, and Ani DiFranco each recorded their own interpretations of the song, DiFranco's being a complete rewrite.

Alan Lomax, writing in the American Folk Song Book (1968), says "Florence Reece, a shy, towheaded Kentucky miner's daughter, composed this song at the age of 12 when her father was out on strike. She sang it me standing in front of the primitive hearth of a log cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky in 1937 and it has since become a national union song. The tune is an American variant of the English Jack Munro, "which side are you on" having been substituted for "lay the lily-o"."[citation needed]

Reece appeared in the Academy Award-winning documentary film, Harlan County, USA, singing her anthem to rally the striking miners. She also appears as a minor character in the television show Damnation performing "Which Side Are You On?"

Florence and Sam Reece were married for 64 years, until his death from pneumoconiosis (black lung) in 1978. After a lifetime of speaking out on behalf of unions and social welfare issues, Florence Reece died of a heart attack in 1986 at the age of 86 in Knoxville, Tennessee.[2]


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  1. ^ Hennen, John (February 13, 2012). "Our old Kentucky home: mine strikes and commie songs". The Smirking Chimp. Smirking Chimp Media. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  2. ^ Writer of Labor Anthem Dies, New York Times, August 6, 1986


  • Biography of Florence Reece on the Appalachian Protest Songwriters web page, Virginia Tech University
  • Interview with Florence Reece in Kathy Kahn, Hillybilly Women: Mountain women speak of the struggle and joy in Southern Appalachia. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1973.
  • "Which Side Are You On?" An Interview With Florence Reece" by Ron Stanford, Sing Out!: The Folk Song Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 6, 1971, pages 13–15
  • AFS 14,588-14,589 Ron Stanford / Florence and Sam Reece Recording Project, "Two 10-inch tapes of an interview of Florence and Sam Reece, with songs by Florence Reece. Recorded in Tennessee by Ron Stanford, June 3–7, 1971" . From the Library of Congress, Research Centers, The American Folklife Center, Finding Aids to Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture, Tennessee Collections, compiled by Christopher DeWitt, Madeline Esposito, Dave Lewis, and Michael Pahn, https://www.loc.gov/folklife/guides/Tennessee.html
  • "Against the Current: poems and stories" by Florence Reece, privately printed by Florence Reece, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1981, https://www.worldcat.org/title/against-the-current-poems-and-stories/oclc/8004758&referer=brief_results
  • Review of "Against the Current" (Florence Reece, 1981) by Loyal Jones, Appalachian Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Fall 1984, pages 68–72, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40932631?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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