Originally, the term “redneck” referred to striking coal miners. In 1920, coal operators raised a private army to attack the miners. The miners fought back. They raised an army ten thousand strong and wore red bandannas around their necks so they could identify each other. Out-of-state journalists started calling them “rednecks.” About a third of the original rednecks were immigrants. Another third of the original rednecks were African American.
The original rednecks were part of the largest armed conflict in the US since the Civil War, an incident known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. I’m fascinated with this part of American history. I went to West Virginia this past summer to research the Battle of Blair Mountain and the general labor tensions. Hopefully, this research will develop into a book project.
Another writer who was fascinated by this stuff is James M. Cain. Before Cain became one of the greatest crime writers of all time, he was a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. He covered the West Virginia Mine Wars.
If you want to learn more about all this, skip Wikipedia and check out my article “James M. Cain and the West Virginia Mine Wars” on Los Angeles Review of Books.