28 July 2017

The Coal Creek labor saga was added to Tennessee’s social studies standards in 2013.  Since then, Tennessee students have learned how slavery didn’t end in Tennessee with the Civil War, it ended with the Coal Creek War of the 1890s.  Many of those Coal Creek miners who were instrumental in ending convict leasing in Tennessee died in tragic mine explosions at Fraterville in 1902 and Briceville in 1911.   

The Tennessee Board of Education proposed removing a substantial portion of Tennessee history, including Coal Creek history, from the required standards beginning in 2019.  Public opposition to such a change prompted the Tennessee Legislature to enact the 2017 Senator Douglas Henry Tennessee History Act, which states, “A clear and full understanding of Tennessee’s history is fundamental to understanding Tennessee’s place in the United States and the world. Providing and promoting Tennessee history should be a core mission of our system of education.”  

The students learned how to "load" the cannon

Taking aim   (Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)

Last week (28 July 2017), the state Board approved final standards which restore Tennessee history, including Coal Creek history, to the state’s curriculum by stating:  In order to further comply with this law (Tennessee History Act), the standards also include the following:

·         A required semester of Tennessee history in 5th grade.

·         An elective course in Tennessee history at the high school level.

·         Explicitly-stated Tennessee content in the standards.

·         Embedded and implied Tennessee content in the standards.

Coal Creek Scholars do research at the
East TN History Center in Knoxville

Table 5 (below) breaks down the different types of Tennessee-specific content featured in the standards document.

A copy of the final standards can be found HERE.


Where else but in Coal Creek history can you find carpetbaggers and scalawags becoming partners in business with skilled legal immigrants (Welsh miners and iron puddlers) to help East Tennessee rebuild after the Civil War?  In the process, they taught new job skills to native Tennesseans, including former slaves. 

The Tennessee Constitution of 1870 outlawed slavery except as punishment for crime.  That exemption became a thinly veiled Jim Crow Law, which enabled young African-Americans on the streets of Nashville and Memphis to be arrested, often for petty crimes, and sent to work as slave labor in the mines of East Tennessee.  When Coal Creek miners attempted to organize labor unions, they were fired and replaced by convict labor.  That’s when Coal Creek miners went to war with the State of Tennessee to end convict leasing at a time when prison, labor, and civil rights activists failed in such attempts.

Historical photograph of the Tennessee National Guard at
Fort Anderson in 1892 during the Coal Creek War

1892 view from Militia Hill overlooking the town of
Coal Creek during the Coal Creek War
Many of those veterans of the Coal Creek War died in tragic mine explosions, but before doing so, they wrote farewell letters before they suffocated in the Great Fraterville Mine explosion of 1902.  Those letters were published in newspapers around the world and led to the formation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines with a mandate from Congress to improve mine safety.  The first successful rescue by engineers and apparatus crews of the Bureau of Mines occurred after the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine explosion in Briceville.  And, it was Coal Creek miners who preserved Welsh literature for posterity at a time when it was illegal to even speak the Welsh language in Great Britain.

Briceville Students stand where the entrance to the
Fraterville Mine was located at time of 19 May 1902

Coal Creek history can be taught as either explicit, embedded, or implied content in the following standards. 


Fifth Grade—Industrialization, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era (1870s to 1910s)  

5.01 Explain the need for the South’s move toward industrialization after the Civil War

5.03 Analyze the ideas and events of the Gilded Age, including economic disparity (e.g., mistrust of money) and industrial capitalists (e.g., John D. Rockefeller).

5.04 Explain the role of labor unions and the American Federation of Labor in changing the standards of working conditions.

Fifth Grade—Tennessee in the Civil War Era (1850s-1900)

5.43 Explain the impact of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1870, including: poll taxes, segregation, and funds for public education. (T.C.A. § 49-6-1028)

5.45 Identify how the rise of vigilante justice (e.g., Ku Klux Klan), black codes, and Jim Crow laws impacted Tennessee and the nation.

Eighth Grade—Reconstruction (1865 to 1877)

8.70 Identify the significance of the Tennessee Constitution of 1870, including the right of all men to vote and the establishment of a poll tax. (T.C.A. § 49-6-1028)

8.72 Explain the restrictions placed on the rights and opportunities of freedmen, including: racial segregation, black codes, and the efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to address the problems confronting newly freed slaves.

8.74 Explain the roles carpetbaggers and scalawags played during Reconstruction.

High School US History and Geography—The Rise of Industrialization (1877-1900)

US.03 Explain the impact of the Compromise of 1877, including: Jim Crow laws, lynching, disenfranchisement methods, the efforts of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton and the Exodusters, and the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. (T.C.A. § 49-6-1006)

US.04 Analyze the causes and consequences of Gilded Age politics and economics as well as the significance of the rise of political machines, major scandals, civil service reform, and the economic difference between farmers, wage earners, and industrial capitalists…

US.07 Describe the differences between “old” and “new” immigrants, analyze the assimilation process for “new” immigrants, and determine the impacts of increased migration on American society…

High School US History and Geography—The Progressive Era (1890-1920)

US.11 Explain the rise of the labor movement, union tactics (e.g., strikes), the role of leaders (e.g., Eugene Debs and Samuel Gompers), the unjust use of prison labor (e.g., Coal Creek labor saga), and the responses of management and government.

US.13 Describe working conditions in industries during this era, including the use of labor by women and children.

High School Tennessee History Elective—Tennessee during Reconstruction (1865-1880)

TN.37 Explain the development of the 1870 Tennessee Constitution (T.C.A. § 49-6-1028).

High School Tennessee History Elective—Tennessee in the New South (1880-1890s)

TN.42 Describe the events that led to the Coal Creek Wars in Anderson and the surrounding counties over the state of Tennessee’s decision to replace coal miners with prisoners.

High School African American History Elective—African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1890s)

AAH.20 Assess the successes and failures of Reconstruction as they relate to African Americans.


Coal Creek Scholar Andy Harness produced a mini-documentary to help teachers and students learn about the Coal Creek Saga at  Coal Creek Watershed Foundation volunteers continue to teach teachers about Coal Creek history at in-service training events, directly to students in the classroom, and/or on field trips to Coal Creek historic sites.  Do you know that four Coal Creek sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places? 

Contact Carol Moore at (865) 584-0344 or for details and/or to arrange a Coal Creek history presentation or field trip. 

Excerpts from presentation by
Barry Thacker, PE
as Welsh immigrant Coal Creek miner
David R. Thomas

Contact Carol Moore at (865) 584-0344
or for details and/or
to arrange a Coal Creek history presentation or field trip. 

[Master Plan] [Map] [Photo Gallery]
[Bank Stabilization Projects]
[Deadwood Removal Days] [Discovery Day 2000] [Scrape, Paint & Clean Day 2000
[Historic Fraterville Mine Disaster Field Trip 2001] [Fraterville Mine Disaster 100th Anniversary]
[Coal Creek War and Mining Disasters] [Mine Reclamation Lessons]
[CMD] [Economic Benefits] [Motor Discovery Trail] [Historic Cemeteries]
[Partners] [Schools in Watershed] [Mark the Trail Day]
[Awards] [Coal Creek Health Days]
[Briceville School History Field Trips] [Ghost Stories]
[Trout Stuff] [Join Us] [Eastern Coal Region Roundtable]
[Articles in the News] [Dream Contest]

Copyright© Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. 2000 through 2021