Author: Barry O’Connell
Source: Smithsonian Folkway Recordings
“Let us now praise famous men.” Dock Boggs belongs among them. Most of his life was lived in the obscurity this Biblical passage celebrates. He deserves fame for his efforts to live true to what he believed his God expected of him. Never a conventional life his was also shaped by extraordinary gifts. Among them was an almost instinctive capacity to see and hear the events of his world newly.
Dock worked forty-five years in coal mines; only for a short period was he able even to imagine he might make a living as a musician. Like many miners he refused to be a company man, a particularly courageous stance in those days when the coal companies held tyrannical power. He spoke out, resisted, named his own course, and followed it. From the early pre-World War I days he was a believer in union, in the United Mine Workers, quick to educate his fellows in the early 1930s about a company attempt to thwart the creation of UMW local by offering a company union in its stead. “Emmet,” Dock told the miner promoting the company union, “that paper you got ain’t worth a dime. Anything the company’s head of and rules and runs, why it isn’t gonna do the men very much good.” He survived all the years underground without suffering either injury to his limbs or to his spirit, a feat which bespeaks luck and brilliant skill. He never bowed to the subtle arts or flagrant acts of the powerful who controlled his work world, the communities he lived in, and the political structure.”
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