January 17, 1947: Labor Lawyer Harold Houston Dies in Florida

Jan 17, 2018

Among his clients were striking coal miners, Sid Hatfield and others accused of murder in the Matewan Massacre.
Credit e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Labor lawyer Harold Houston died in Florida on January 17, 1947, at age 74. When he was young, his parents moved from Ohio to Jackson County and then to Charleston.

In 1901, after getting a law degree from West Virginia University, Houston opened a legal practice in Parkersburg.

By 1912, he’d returned to Charleston and soon became chief attorney and counsel for most of the state’s major labor organizations. Among his clients were striking coal miners, Sid Hatfield and others accused of murder in the Matewan Massacre, and United Mine Workers of America leaders charged with treason following the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain.

After the treason trials, Houston was fired as UMWA counsel by national president John L. Lewis. In 1931, Houston helped Frank Keeney organize the West Virginia Mine Workers Union—which briefly competed with the UMWA. Houston also ran for local, state, and federal offices on the Socialist ticket.

In later years, he was involved in an automobile dealership and a real estate addition in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston that bears his name. He eventually retired to Lake Worth, Florida.