This elegy was written by teen-age Della Mae Graham for her father who was president of the United Mineworkers' local [Local 4467] in Wilder. One Sunday morning Barney Graham was walking along the dirt road that was Wilder's main street, and as he passed the company store, two gun thugs shot and killed him. The community was so tightly controlled by the mine owners that no local preacher dared preach at the funeral of the dead union man; instead the oration was preached by divinity students from Nashville....
When Daddy [Don West] knew Della Mae Graham, she recited this poem and had written no tune.
Hedy West, liner notes for "Old Times & Hard Times" (Topic 12T117, 1965)
The history of American labor is filled with pages of violence, blood-letting. murder and martyrs. Barney Graham was the organizer of the miners in the famous Davidson-Wilder strike of 1933. (See notes for ''My Children Are Seven In Number.'' ) At the height of the strike. the company imported a Chicago gun-thug who murdered Barney Graham in broad daylight on the streets of Wilder. The song was composed by Barney's daughter, Della Mae.
Irwin Silber, liner notes for Pete Seeger, "American Industrial Ballads" (Folkways FH 5251, 1956).
Lyrics as reprinted ibid.
On April the thirtieth,
Upon the streets of Wilder
They shot him, brave and free.
They shot my darling father,
He fell upon the ground;
'Twas in the back they shot him;
His blood come streaming down.
They took the pistol handles
And beat him on the head;
The hired gunmen beat him
Till he was cold and dead.
When he left home that morning,
I thought he'd never return;
But for my darling father
My heart shall ever yearn.
We carried him to the graveyard
There we laid him down;
To sleep in death for many a year
In the cold and sodden ground.
Although he left the union
He tried so hard to build,
His blood was spilled for justice,
And justice guides us still.