Which Side Are You On?

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"Which Side Are You On?"
Songwriter(s)Florence Reece

"Which Side Are You On?" is a song written in 1931 by activist Florence Reece, who was 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 in southeastern Kentucky were locked in a bitter and violent struggle called the Harlan County War. In an attempt to intimidate the family of union leader Sam Reece, Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men, hired by the mining company, illegally entered their home in search of Reece. Reece had been warned and escaped but his wife, Florence, and their children were terrorized. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to "Which Side Are You On?" on a calendar that hung in their kitchen. 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.

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, Deacon Blue, Dropkick Murphys, Rebel Diaz, Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco, Tom Morello, Panopticon, and S.G. Goodman each recorded their own interpretations of the song.

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]


In other media[edit]


  1. ^ Boal, Ellis (21 October 2007). "Which Side Are You On?". Labor Notes. Archived from the original on 31 October 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  2. ^ 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. S2CID 161957832.
  3. ^ "Between the Wars EP". Billy Bragg. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  4. ^ Manning, Tony (23 December 2019). "Back to 'Between the Wars'?". New Socialist. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  5. ^ "Folk Music Flame". EarthLink. Archived from the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2022.
  6. ^ Giegerich, Steve. "Michael Brown protesters interrupt St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ Hartford, Bruce (2011). "The Power of Freedom Songs". Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  8. ^ @People4Bernie (25 March 2020). ".@SarahLeeGuthrie wrote a new version of "Which Side Are You On" for Bernie 2020!!!!" (Tweet). Retrieved 25 March 2020 – via Twitter.
  9. ^ "Which Side Podcast – A Vegan Anarchist Social Justice Podcast". Which Side Podcast – A Vegan Anarchist Social Justice Podcast. Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  10. ^ "Eat the Rich - The tension between satire and tragedy in HBO's Succession". The Nation.
  11. ^ "Which Side Are You On?" Bernie Sanders Ad, retrieved 28 May 2022

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