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Archive for September 5th, 2010

Labor Day Marks Kentucky’s Night Rider Movement

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By Jacque Day

In the early 20th century, in a poor and largely overlooked region of western Kentucky and west Tennessee, a band of vigilantes carried out its own brand of law and order. From 1905 to 1909, the Night Riders engaged in a sustained and violent uprising that has branded them, by some, as terrorists. A decade after the deadly Pullman Strike in New York that inspired Labor Day, a decade before a massacre in Everett, Washington escalated the west coast labor movement, the Night Riders emerged from a prevailing trend of the day: everyman versus the corporation. Jacque Day explores the rise and fall of the Tobacco War with a Kentucky Supreme Court justice and a lifelong student of local folklore.

It began with a group of farmers standing up to Big Tobacco. It escalated into a reign of terror bearing haunting similarities to the French Revolution.

“To really understand, you have to understand that tobacco was the only real cash crop we had in western Kentucky in western middle Tennessee.”

This is Dr. Tom Hiter, a retired Army officer and educator. He holds a master’s degree in history education. He relays what he says is a common tale of the day, as the tobacco trusts paid less and less for crops.

“A man working… he and his whole family… working all year on about an acre of tobacco, loading it onto a wagon, hauling it to Murray or Mayfield or Paducah to an auction floor, and then having to sell his wagon to pay the auction fees. Literally getting nothing for a long, hard year’s work.”

Bill Cunningham is a Kentucky Supreme Court justice and author of a book chronicling the Night Rider Tobacco War titled On Bended Knee.

“The American Tobacco Company, headed up by the Duke family, monopolized the tobacco business and drove the tobacco prices down to about $0.03 a pound.

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Written by Chris Taylor

September 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Posted in FYI