May 27, 1922: Labor Leader Bill Blizzard Acquitted of Treason Charges

May 27, 2016

Credit e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 27, 1922, a jury acquitted labor leader Bill Blizzard of committing treason against West Virginia. The charges were related to the recent Battle of Blair Mountain. Blizzard was one of several more radical leaders who’d risen to power in the United Mine Workers of America during the 1910s. After the battle, prosecutors brought Blizzard to trial first, believing they had the best case against him.

The trial was moved to Charles Town, the seat of Jefferson County, far from the southern coalfields. Ironically, 63 years earlier, abolitionist John Brown had been convicted of treason in the very same courthouse.

Blizzard’s trial centered on where he was during the Battle of Blair Mountain. The prosecution claimed he’d shadowed the marchers and closely followed their progress. The defense argued he’d remained in Charleston. Questions about the reliability of some prosecution witnesses, and Blizzard’s role in convincing the miners to lay down their arms, led to his acquittal.

In the end, only one miner, Walter Allen, was convicted of treason over the Mine Wars. Another miner, John Wilburn, and his two sons were convicted of second-degree murder.