This Day in History

Apr. 8, 1911: Banner Mine Explosion

Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919
Themes: African American, Criminal Justice & Incarceration, Labor

Workers at Banner Mine. Source: Birmingham Public Library Archives

On April 8, 1911, an explosion at the Banner Mine in Alabama killed 128 men, almost all of them African American prisoners of the state. Many of them were serving time for misdemeanors such as violating prohibition and vagrancy — often known to be trumped up charges to help meet state quotas for convict labor. The men were effectively sentenced to enslavement and death through the convict lease system.

Within two weeks of the explosion, convicts were sent back to work at the mine. The use of convict labor in Alabama mines was in response by the owners to earlier efforts by miners to join labor unions and strike for higher wages and better working conditions. Those better working conditions might have prevented the Banner explosion and other mine disasters. The state colluded with the mine owners to protect their profits instead of the rights of the workers for health and safety.

Read more about the Banner Mine disaster at the Encyclopedia of Alabama and see the book and film Slavery by Another Name.

Meanwhile, the contemporary implications of coal get little mention in textbooks and the U.S. government is lifting all safety regulations on mining. Read and share The Poison We Never Talk About in School by Bill Bigelow from Rethinking Schools.