Union Burying Ground
11. Union Burying Ground
(Woody Guthrie/Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., BMI)
Track 11 – Union Burying Ground (MASTER MA 77)
By the fall of 1940, Guthrie was established in New York City. He was singing with the Almanacs, appearing regularly on CBS radio, either on Alan Lomax’s School of the Air or
on Norman Corwin’s weekly programs. Beyond the Almanacs, he had a widening circle of friends, including Huddie and Martha Ledbetter, and three fugitives from Harlan and Bell Counties, Kentucky: “Aunt Molly” Jackson, and her half-siblings, Jim Garland and Sarah Ogan. The three of them had been run out of Harlan where they had sought to organize for the United Mine Workers at the risk of their lives. (Not for nothing had Harlan been tagged “Bloody Harlan.”)
From Aunt Molly, Garland, and Sarah Ogan – with whom Guthrie had an intimate relationship – Guthrie learned of the difficulties of union organizing in eastern Kentucky, and the very real human costs. “Aunt Molly would sing us an hour or two of Bloody Harlan County, songs of organizing the coal miners to beat the thugs of old Sheriff Blair.” Sarah, Guthrie continued in his small collections of American Folksong (New York: Oak Publications, 1961, pp. 10-12) “told us how the deputy sheriff caught her in the dark of night stealing a sack of coal of the mine dump. He pulled his pistol and said that he would shoot her if he caught her there stealing coal again. Sarah said, Oil your pistol up good, Mister Deputy, I’ll be right here on this dump tomorrow night carrying home a sack to keep my kids from freezing…. And then I said, yes, Sarah, you are fighting the people I hate, the sicknesses that we all hate, the causers and the carriers of the worst of all wordly [worldly?] illnesses, this profit system to feed the monopoly machine that is choking every solitary one of us.”
“Union Burying Ground” was the result.