The 2nd Civil War
January 26, 2003 2:49 PM   Subscribe

The Battle of Blair Mountain. Do you know the origin of the phrase "Redneck? In 1921, in West Virginia, after brutally corrupt regional law had employed thug tactics including false imprisonment, seizure of property, and murder (or simply "disappearance") upon the local mine workers to discourage labour Unions from forming, an army of nearly 13,000 workers took to the streets, meeting up with the forces of the murderous sherrif at an area known as Blair Mountain. [More Inside]
posted by jonson (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This army of workers called themselves "red necks", from the red traditionally associated with Labor Unions (and by extension, communism). When President Harding sent in federal troops to quell the mounting rebellion, the unions effectively lost the battle but won the war. For those interested in a largely undocumented piece of 20th Century American History (compare this, for example, to the amount of material available on the 1921 "Black Sox" scandal), this article is a fascinating read on the potential results of unchecked tyranny. via my friend Chad
posted by jonson at 2:51 PM on January 26, 2003

The OED cites these earlier instances of the word "redneck":

1830 A. ROYALL Southern Tour I. 148 This may be ascribed to the Red Necks, a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians in Fayetteville. 1893 H. A. SHANDS Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi 53 Red-neck,..a name applied by the better class of people to the poorer inhabitants of the rural districts. 1904 Dialect Notes II. 420 Redneck, n., An uncouth countryman. ‘The hill-billies came from the hills, and the rednecks from the swamps.’ 1913 J. DAVIS Life & Speeches iii. 42 If you red-necks or hill billies ever come to Little Rock be sure and come to see mecome to my house.

And this page includes a little more info on the 1830 version:
"Redneck dates to 1830, when it was first used to denote the Presbyterians of Fayetteville. The significance of the name is somewhat obscure. Three explanations are commonly offered. First, it could be a reference to a ruddy neck caused by anger. Second, it could be a reference to sunburned necks caused by working in the fields all day. Finally, it could be a reference to pellagra which turns the neck red.

There is also a tale in which it referred to striking coal miners tale who wore red bandannas a means of group identification. This is unlikely due to what we know of its origin. The sunburn or pellagra explanation seems more likely than the anger one."
posted by gluechunk at 3:15 PM on January 26, 2003

This story sure looks like good movie material...
posted by titboy at 4:39 PM on January 26, 2003

This story sure looks like good movie material...

It does.
posted by Vidiot at 4:54 PM on January 26, 2003

The story also was made into a fictionalized book entitled Storming Heaven.
posted by jonson at 6:04 PM on January 26, 2003

Thanks, gluechunk, for a proper debunking of yet another bullshit etymology. That kind of half-assed touting of a supposed word origin leaves the scholarship of the entire rest of the work in doubt.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:47 PM on January 26, 2003

gluechunk...I also believe that redneck was used to refer to the British in South Africa by the Boers in the 19th century. Y'see, they were more recently arrived, and the soldiers, in the hot African sun, received "red necks". Sorry I can't find a link to verify this, though.
posted by Kevs at 7:59 PM on January 26, 2003

thought the origin of redneck was from the red neck one would get after working long days on a farm. figure collar and on up to your hair...

*shrug*, that could be a florida cracker's interpretation :D
posted by shadow45 at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2003

Kevs, yeah, but apparently that redneck came from the word rooinek. OED's 3rd definition for redneck is:

3. S. Afr. = ROOINEK.
  1900 A. H. KEANE Boer States p. xviii, Rooinek, ‘Red~neck’, in reference originally to some merinos introduced by an English farmer into the Free State, and marked with a red brand on the neck. These were spoken of as red-necksan expression afterwards extended to the English themselves, and then as a term of contempt to the British troops in red uniform. 1921, etc. [see ROOINEK]. 1936 R. CAMPBELL Mithraic Emblems 111 To find a red-neck cheap upon this day You do not need to wander far away. 1972 J. MCCLURE Caterpillar Cop ii. 18 What's with this Red~neck?.. Another bloody English immigrant?

There are a lot of pages on the web in which people discuss/argue about the exact start of the current version of (the U.S.) redneck. But I need to eat a cookie and not google.
posted by gluechunk at 9:05 PM on January 26, 2003

Yup here in South Africa, there's still a bit of playful slang between traditionally English and Afrikaans people. As mentioned before English people are referred to as Rooineks, while Afrikaners are referred to as Rockspiders, another term originating from the Boer War.

The etymology of rockspider is a bit hazy, my Afrikaans workmate says it was either due to the fact that the boer guerilla commandos would scramble over the koppies (small rocky hills) during their raids on british troops like spiders or due to the fact that the boers were considered to be overly hairy (a beard was mandatory for a boer male at the time)

Although it is funny that in the US red neck refers to supposedly lower class whites while in SA rooinek refers to the upper class Brits. Same word, totally different group of people.
posted by PenDevil at 12:19 AM on January 27, 2003

jonson: the article says exactly the opposite: "The coal companies had won the battle but would lose the war."

And indeed they did, when unions were later guaranteed by new deal legislation.
posted by benh57 at 12:24 AM on January 27, 2003

As vidiot mentioned there is a very fine movie about the events that led up to the battle of Blair Mountain. This conflict is generally recognized as the largest insurrection on American soil since the Civil War. Until very recently, West Virginia history as taught in junior high and high schools ignored this little slice of history because many of the involved parties were still alive, and the divisions ran very deep. The transformation of the coal industry from being highly labor intensive to more automated has dampened the antagonism between labor and the companies, but you only have to have crossed a picket line once in the coalfields of my home state to understand how serious the conflict was.
posted by cyclopz at 5:42 AM on January 27, 2003

I believe John Sayles used this story (and a number of others like it) as an inspiration for his film "Matewan".
posted by troutfishing at 6:50 AM on January 27, 2003

"lets roll griegsy"
posted by clavdivs at 8:07 AM on January 27, 2003

hm, I'm from Florida originally too and have always been told it was a reference to "farmer's tan."
posted by Foosnark at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2003

Hmmm. I sense a conspiracy between the State of Florida & the Oxford English Dictionary to rob these poor miners of their etymological birthright. Seriously, though, the word derivation issue is a footnote (albeit an incorrect footnote) of the entire story linked to, and I wish I'd not called attention to it, as it detracts from what is a fascinating and little known story of modern American history.
posted by jonson at 8:40 AM on January 27, 2003

I was all set to recommend Matewan but Vidiot beat me to it. Great movie for anyone interested in the history of unions, coal mines, and "Bloody Mingo." Or anyone curious about Will Oldham's child acting career.
posted by jennyb at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2003

I grew up in Logan, West Virginia. When I was a teenager, I would go up on Blair Mountain to party. There was a tall fire lookout tower on the top that was great fun to climb. You could see so many ridges from it; the hills just went on and on. Last time I tried to go back there, a few years ago, there were all sorts of fences in the way. The coal companies are as ruthless to the environment now as they used to be toward their "employees." Strip mining and "mountain top removal" are turning the area into a landscape from hell, and to add insult to injury, the profits reaped from these efforts still completely elude the inhabitants of the land. And then these people are blamed for their ignorance and poverty because it is easier for their fellow citizens to think that the ugliness is due to individual moral failing ("lazy rednecks") than in the economic system in which we all participate, by which we are all culpable.
posted by macinchik at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2003

I'm not exactly a member of Earth First (I do have a soft spot for the EDF), but I don't think I've ever seen an uglier landscape than strip-mined hills in West Virginia, my home state. You can stand in the Monongahela National Forest or the Dolly Sods Wilderness Preserve (or innumerable places in southern and western WV) and be surrounded by land that's been raped.
posted by Vidiot at 7:59 PM on January 27, 2003

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