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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 22 Notes:

Determined to be an example of good, Maggie led with care, kindness, and creativity. It were these things that turned her into a Queen in her community, even if the rest of the country thought otherwise.  This is the true story of a woman who, at a time when women were not allowed to act as she did, stood up for human rights and leaned into the community she desperately wanted to support.

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

Flem didn’t want to make the call but he had no choice. The paper sat unfolded on his desk, the ink still smelling fresh and the paper crisp. He read the headline again, sighed, and picked up the phone. 

The conversation was brief. Matter of fact. The man on the other side of the line knew it was coming. He expected it, after what had happened. Everyone had. 15 minutes. That’s all the time it took to change the world forever.

In this same county, on that exact same day in May, eleven year old Maggie was dealing with struggles of her own. They were not unrelated, as this Kentucky county had always been known for its ability to spin a yarn and carried on a strong oral tradition. 

Perhaps it was due to the Native American heritage, which ran deep and old through this area. Or, perhaps because the year was 1931, that’s just the way things worked. This was working class America, coal mining country. This was a time when coal powered much of America. 

And, in the booming industrial growth of America at the time, a resource like this was rife for exploration. So, too, were the people that risked limb and life going beneath the ground, sickening themselves by inhaling coal dust, and dying in horrible conditions. 

As a thank you, coal firms slashed miner wages by 10%. Coal unions responded in kind by going on strike. They were summarily fired. Evicted. Sent into the county as refugees to the few coal towns, three of them that were still operating outside the jurisdictions of coal firms and associations, at this time. 

And when things got worse, the United Mine Workers of America, which had originally organized and supported the strikes, decided further support would be too expensive. They pulled an Irish goodbye, after having started the whole damn thing. Poverty and violence exploded. The Red Cross considered supporting the displaced workers and their families too. But, they didn’t. This was an industrial issue, not a humanitarian one, despite the rampant poverty and how many humans it affected. In truth, I’m guessing they didn’t want to upset powerful corporations. 

So, what else were these people supposed to do?  

It was this background that caused the rising up of a hardworking, industrial people in a famous part of Kentucky that resulted in that call, by Flem, months later, after 1,000 rounds of ammunition were punched through the barrels of rifles and pistols at 3 supply cars and 3 hated anti-union deputies.  

And it was Maggie six years later would employ her creativity to support four younger siblings. She, would lean into her femininity, and carve out a livelihood without guns and force. This was a novel approach and only something a woman would think of. Men, being men, would be more inclined to use their muscles and their violence to get their way…at least throughout most of America’s history. And, at this time in history, that’s why this county in Kentucky was war torn. Yet, it needed someone like Maggie to heal it.

Maggie saw this. Which is why she kept on shaping things in shiny metal. Using fire to soften and form. Relying on glass to create art. Which she sold. Over and over again. To all of her neighbors. To the government employees in town. To the judges. And the jailers. To the doctors and lawyers. And they’d take her crafts and look at them fondly, putting them on shelves in their homes. She was a small business, and she operated out of her house. 

Then she used the money to support her community. Every day she wore a print dress with an apron and she’d go into the town to nurture people, giving to those who needed it the most. She saw her purpose as helping others, and believed in community ideals, that together people could rise, if they rose with each other, aligned, in support of one another. Today, in our individualized world, this concept is often forgotten.

At this time in Harlan County, Kentucky’s history, Flem had also forgotten this. Was he wrong in bringing force against force instead of relying on more diplomatic methods to soothe the deep wounds of all the displaced and impoverished miners? 

Maybe. 

Or, maybe he didn’t have another choice.

At this point, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the call Flem made, as he looked at the morning’s newspaper and heard of the unconfined violence. So, governor Flem picked up the phone and told the National Guard of Kentucky to mobilize against the dejected miners of Harlan County. 

Sure, they’d been run over by corporations seeking profits. Sure, his decision, instead of ending the war, would escalate the conflict and extend it another eight years. This was because Governor Flem didn’t realize how deep the corruption ran. Or, maybe he was part of the corruption.

You see, mining companies would employ a variety of tactics to…keep their expenses down. This included sneaking lines into miner contracts that prevented them from joining unions. Or, they would form unions and encourage employees to join them…only the unions would be stage pieces that were ultimately run by the companies that they were supposed to keep in check. 

Profits drive so many devilish schemes, schemes that, sometimes, only guns and bullets can stop. And that not even an organized military force can easily stop. 

Maggie was developing creative schemes of her own. And, again, they did not involve guns and bullets. That would not be her style. Her weapon of choice, was a smile. And a genuine love for the people in her community. 

Which would also lead to her arrest and over a year in federal prison. 

The disputes had ended by the time she found herself behind bars, and this part of Kentucky was still trying to patch itself together again, even as they gashes that tore open the Earth continued to spill with coal, that powered the United States. 

In Hegelian philosophy, when one ideology becomes too extreme a synthesis of the two warring ideologies merge and churn out something new, a balance. And after the fighting and deaths, and strikes that pitted the profit mongers and the miners against one another, federal law started to create a new ideology, a balance between the do anything they want, unchecked actions of coal firms and the need to treat people with human decency. 

Today, this is still an ongoing battle, and the line is always moving between the balance of the two. And, in the late 1930’s, when legislation started to come out to rebalance the scales between employees and employers, law enforcement started targeting something else. 

They turned their attention hard to people like Maggie. And, they slapped those iron bracelets on her, putting her in prison, for the first, and the last time in her life.

When she got out she went right back to doing what she’d always done. Caring for the community. Putting kids through college that couldn’t afford to go. Giving money to her neighbors so they could eat and live. And continuing her creative pursuits. 

This time, though, she got herself an education to defend against the men whole had come for her the last time. 

It was the fourth amendment she relied on the most. The guaranteed protection from unlawful search and seizure. An amendment that, during the rest of her life, would continually be honed and defined through new precedences, which she could tell you about.

Because the thing was that the majority of the United States didn’t consider her a criminal. She just happened to live in a place that did. 

It was a matter of location. 

And had she taken her print dress and her apron down the road, she would have been fine. But, she couldn’t. She was part of the community and the community was part of her. 

So she kept on with her creative pursuits. And kept on selling. Through the 40s. Into the 50’s. And the 60’s. 70s. 80s. 90s. And the 2000s. 

Never once did she end up convicted of a crime again. Even thought much of that time she was considered a criminal.

But, the funny thing about the law is that sometimes it puts people on one side of the line, only to have them on the other side in the future. 

For Maggie Bailey, she was not this person. Maggie Bailey was the line. Always. Her entire life. And, the thing about the line is that the side you fall to depends on how you wield the gray. 

If you give to the community, espouse love and care, feed others, then the gray is often overlooked. 

If you wield your gray with malice and violence, the national guard gets called. Then they drop their bombs, spill blood, and seek death. 

Like they did in the 1930’s in Harlan County, Kentucky when coal miners when on strike due to dangerous conditions and poor wages. But, only because the miners tried to use violence as a way to solve their problem. It’s what led to the famous skirmishes and the Battle of Evarts, which forced the hand of Governor Flem and led him to call the National Guard for support. 

That’s the important lesson Maggie Bailey learned. 

It’s why, despite evading taxes and selling alcohol in a dry county of Kentucky for over 70 years, Maggie Bailey only faced conviction once, despite being extremely high profile.

It’s why, Maggie Bailey, was called the Queen.

Which was short of the Queen of all Bootleggers

Because Maggie Bailey, selling into her 90s always looked more like your grandmother in older age, than a criminal. 

And who would send their own grandmother to prison.

Even if she was illegally selling moonshine.

It’s also why, after Maggie Bailey died at the age of 101, she was remembered through land preservations that were put in her name, articles from national and international publications, and memorials that would solidify her place in not only moonshine history, but history as a strong female who bucked the status quo, by leaning into all of the things that made her a woman.   

Anyway…I’ll drink to that.