User:John Reid/Reece

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This is a workpage for an eventual article: Which Side Are You On?. Note that some of this material may be copyrighted; source only.

Florence Reece (1931)

Harlan County, Kentucky

Lyrics Lyrics

Bloody Harlan

recorded by the Almanac Singers (1941) Talking Union Keynote K 302 A (Keynote album 106), July 1941 The actual original can be found at this link:

In 1931, coal miners in Harlan County were on strike. Armed company deputies roamed the countryside, terrorizing the mining communities, looking for union leaders to beat, jail, or kill. But coal miners, brought up lean and hard in the Kentucky mountain country, knew how to fight back, and heads were bashed and bullets fired on both sides in Bloody Harlan.

It was this kind of class war -- the mine owners and their hired deputies on one side, and the independent, free-wheeling Kentucky coal-miners on the other -- that provided the climate for Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?" In it she captured the spirit of her times with blunt eloquence.

Mrs. Reece wrote from personal experience. Her husband, Sam, was one of the union leaders, and Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men came to her house in search of him when she was alone with her seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, ready to shoot Sam down if he returned.

One day during this tense period Mrs. Reece tore a sheet from a wall calendar and wrote the words to "Which Side Are You On?" The simple form of the song made it easy to adapt for use in other strikes, and many different versions have circulated.

Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Protest, New York, NY, 1973, p. 55.

Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My dady was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
And I'll stick with the union
'Til every battle's won.

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

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

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

My daddy was a miner
He's in the air and sun
But he'll stick with the Union
'Til every battle's won

My daddy was a miner
He's now in the air and sun
He'll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle's won 


to the tune of an old Baptist hymn


Which Side Are You On? The Harlan County Coal Miners, 1931-39 John W. Hevener

U of Illinois Press

see also[edit]

Harlan County, USA film

Aunt Molly Jackson similar singer/songwriter Mary Magdalene Garland Stewart Jackson Stamos

Dropkick Murphys, Which Side Are You On?

has come not only to symbolize the half a century of strife in Harlan County but is a rallying call for union organizers and supporters everywhere


United Mine Workers Association -- no strike policy National Miners Union -- supported strike


Sherif J.H. Blair and his men came to our house in search of Sam - that’s my husband - he was one of the union leaders. I was home alone with our seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, waiting to shoot Sam down when he came back. But he didn’t come home that night.

Afterward I tore a sheet from a calendar on the wall and wrote the words to “Which Side Are You On?” to an old Baptist hymn, “Lay the Lily Low”.

My songs always goes to the underdog - to the worker. I’m one of them and I feel like I’ve got to be with them. There’s no such thing as neutral. You have to be on one side or the other. Some people say, “I don’t take sides - I’m neutral.” There’s no such thing. In your mind you’re on one side or the other. In Harlan County there wasn’t no neutral. If you wasn’t a gun thug, you was a union man. You had to be.

- Florence Reece -


John Yount, Hardcastle

By July 25, 1931, there were sixty-five hired thugs who had been deputized by Sheriff John Henry Blair in Harlan County alone

Voice of America (VOA) THIS IS AMERICA - September 3, 2001: Labor Movement Songs

covered by Pete Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Billy Bragg, Dropkick Murphys