MATEWAN — The cast and crew of the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan” — including James Earl Jones, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, and other luminaries — are banding together to support the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum’s efforts to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 2021.
The Mine Wars Museum received a $30,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the celebration, but in order to unlock those funds, the museum must match the grant dollar-for-dollar. The museum has already raised about half of the funds. In order to raise the rest, the museum launched an online fundraiser on IndieGoGo to attract donations.
James Earl Jones, who played “Few Clothes Johnson” in the film, was the campaign’s very first donor. He shared with museum staff that “Matewan” was his favorite film in which he ever acted.
“I hope you have a chance to see it,” he says. “And I hope you will consider donating to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, which brings this forgotten history to life in the 21st century.”
Other stars of the film also vouch for the museum and its efforts to preserve the history of the American worker. The promotional video for the campaign includes many more testimonials from the cast and crew.
“Today it’s maybe more important than ever to remember our country’s legacy of labor organizing and resistance to injustice,” says Chris Cooper, who played union organizer Joe Kenehan in the film.
Writer and director John Sayles says both the Battle of Blair Mountain and the Matewan miners’ strike were examples of “people coming together to fight injustice,” and he supports the museum’s efforts to “keep telling the story.”
Actor Gordon Clapp, who played Baldwin Felts agent “Tom Griggs” in the film, asks folks to “open their hearts and their checkbooks to help us save a part of Matewan’s history.”
And Joe Grifasi, who played unionist miner Fausto, even sings a famous Italian labor hymn to drum up enthusiasm for the cause.
Though the centennial of the Battle of Blair Mountain is still three years in the future, planning for the 5-day commemoration is already underway. The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum has already partnered with key organizations across the Appalachian region, such as the National Coal Heritage Authority, West Virginia Labor Association, Battle of Homestead Foundation, Clio Foundation, Terror on the Tug, and more. The museum also hired a centennial coordinator in November to help jumpstart the planning.
To learn more about the fundraising campaign and watch the star-studded video, go to igg.me/at/blair100. Donors will receive special gifts like red bandanas, lapel pins, ballcaps, museum memberships, a VIP ramp dinner with special guests, and more. The campaign is underway and runs through the end of the calendar year.
All proceeds from the online campaign will benefit the Blair Centennial, which will take place in 2021 during Labor Day Weekend and will expand across multiple counties in the state.
The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, in the heart of Historic Matewan, preserves and interprets artifacts and historical records of the local communities affected by the West Virginia Mine Wars, exploring historical events from multiple perspectives through the lives of ordinary people. The museum aims to be a community partner through youth education and promotion of heritage tourism. More information at wvminewars.com.