Which Side Are You On?
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|"Which Side Are You On?"|
|Written by||Florence Reece|
|Lyrics by||Florence Reece|
"Which Side Are You On?" is a song written by Florence Reece in 1931. Reece was the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1931, the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners 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". Florence recorded the song, which can be heard on the CD Coal Mining Women.
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.
Versions by other artists
- The Almanac Singers - Talking Union, in 1941.
- Pete Seeger - "Greatest Hits", in 1967.
- 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
- Spirituál kvintet - Za svou pravdou stát (Stand Behind Your Truth), translation to Czech language, in "Dostavník 18", 1983
- Panopticon - Kentucky, in 2012.
- Rebel Diaz made a remix of the song
- Billy Bragg - Back to Basics, in 1987, albeit with different lyrics altogether.
- 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 other media
- Which Side is a political podcast which took its name from the union song "Which Side Are You On?"
- 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.
- Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest part 1, 2003 documentary.