Roll Down the Line

Coal Creek Free Miners

This song tells of the exploitation of prison labor to break the miners union in the brutal "Coal Creek War" of 1877. The earliest known recording is by Jilson Setters in 1937, but more famously it was performed by Uncle Dave Macon and later by Pete Seeger. Said Setters, "My song is founded on the truth, In poverty we stand. How hard the millionaire will crush Upon the laboring man." The story is an early example of the new slavery system - young black men swept up into prisons, often on flimsy pretexts, then "leased out" to private companies. The fact that this practice was used to break the miners' unions is an ironic double exploitation pitting black aganist white.

You'll find some good notes on the song and the struggle on Folklorist.org

By the way, just to show that I always have some continuity between the songs I put up: "La Cárcel de Cananéa" ends with mention of el Señor de Mapimí, who, in Mexico, is the patron saint of miners.

Lyrics: 

Way back yonder in Tennesee, they leased the convicts out
They worked ‘em in the coal mines, against free labor South;
Free labor rebelled against it. To win it took some time.
But while the lease was in effect, they made 'em rise and shine.

Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder comes my darlin', comin down the line.
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Buddy, won't you roll down the line?
Yonder comes my darlin', comin down the line.

Early Monday morning they’ve got em out on time,
March them down to Lone Rock, just to look into that mine.
March you down to Lone Rock, just to look into that hole
Very last words the captain says "You better get your coal."

Buddy, won’t you ...

The beans they are half done, the bread is not so well.
The meat it is burnt up and the coffee's black as heck.
But when you get your task done you’re glad to come to call
For anything you get to eat it tastes good, done or raw.

Buddy, won’t you ...

The bank boss he's a hard man, a man you all know well,
And if you don't get your task done, he's gonna give you hallelujah!
Carry you to the stockade, and it's on the floor you fall
The very next time the call on you, you bet you’ll have your coal.

Buddy, won’t you ...

Instruments: 
Tuning: 
Standard C