Come All You Coal Miners

Submitted by Matthew on 28 September, 2011 - 12:13

This song was composed by Sarah Ogan Gunning. Sarah was born in 1910 in Bell County Kentucky. One of fifteen children she was the daughter of a coal miner who was a keen trade unionist.

In 1925 Sarah married Andrew Ogan. Andrew was a member of the (short-lived) Communist Party-led National Miners Union.

Unemployment hit the mining community of Kentucky and many migrated — the Ogans end up in the slums of lower East Side, New York City in around 1935. Sarah later married Joseph Gunning, a skilled metal polisher and migrated once again to Detroit in the early 1940s.

It was while she was in New York that Sarah met folk singers who were part of a revival of folk song — Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Huddie Ledbetter, Earl Robinson, Will Geer, Woody Guthrie. Many would go on to “cover” her songs. Sarah herself, caught up in the everyday reality of poverty and surviving poverty, never made a “career” for herself in songwriting. However in the early sixties she performed in public at folk festivals.

This song was “inspired” by the Great Depression and was one of many of that time and place (southern pits and mills) which blended “radical” anti-capitalist lyrics and traditional melodies. It was written about her husband, who at the time (late 30s) was dying of TB.

Come all you coal miners wherever you may be

And listen to a story that I’ll relate to thee

My name is nothing extra, but the truth to you I’ll tell

I am a coal miner’s wife, I’m sure I wish you well

Coal mining is the most dangerous work in our land today

With plenty of dirty slaving work and very little pay

Coal miner won’t you wake up and open your eyes and see

What the dirty capitalist system is doing to you and me

They take your very life blood and they take our children’s lives

They take fathers away from children and husbands away from wives

Oh miner, won’t you organize wherever you may be

And make this a land of freedom for workers like you and me

Dear miner, they will slave you until you can’t work no more

And what’ll you get for your living but a dollar in a company store

A tumble-down shack to live in, snow and rain pours in the top

You have to pay the company rent, your paying never stops

I am a coal miner’s wife, I’m sure I wish you well

Let’s sink this capitalist system in the darkest pits of hell

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