Today is the birthday of Florence Reese, who wrote the legendary labor anthem "Which Side Are You On?" The following account by Deana Martin comes courtesy of the Progressive Review:
Born April 12, 1900, in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, Florence Reece, a social activist, poet and songwriter, grew up in a coal camp at Fork Ridge, Tenn. Florence met her husband-to-be, Sam Reece [an organizer of the famous 1932 "Bloody Harlan" mine strike in Kentucky -- CK] at the young age of fifteen.
Reece is perhaps best known for her song "Which Side are You On?," which soon became the anthem for the labor movement. The song was written in 1931 during a strike by the United Mine Workers of America. . . During this strike, the sheriff, J.H. Blair, led his gang of thugs on a violent rampage, beating and murdering union leaders. They found themselves at the Reece's home, where Reece was alone with the children. She held her ground, asking the sheriff, "What are you here for? You know there's nothing but a lot of little hungry children here." Then she somehow got word to her husband not to come home, while the sheriff and his thugs kept watch at he door. The men ransacked the house in search of Sam, to no avail. While Florence waited inside for her husband, she wrote the song on an old wall calendar, to the tune of "Lay the Lily Low."
About 1940, Pete Seeger, an "eager young college dropout wanting to learn union songs," learned the song from Tillman Cadle, a coal miner. In 1941 it was recorded by the Almanac Singers. This version made the song famous. The song continues to be sung at gatherings for labor workers and many other social causes throughout the world.
You can find the words and music to "Which Side Are You On?" here.