Betty Lou Harmison on Interviewing Labor Leader John Lewis at the Country Inn in Berkeley Springs

When Betty Lou Harmison was a student at Berkeley Springs High School back in the 1940s, she was chosen by her journalism teacher to interview John L. Lewis, the great labor leader and president of the Union Mine Workers.

When Lewis was visiting Berkeley Springs, he would stay at the Country Inn.

“This was my first visit to the Country Inn,” Harmison told This Week in Morgan County with Russell Mokhiber. “That’s amazing, since I spent my later life there. But it was my first visit. I was excited about it and a wee bit honored and tried not to show it. I was honored that I was chosen from the class to interview John L. Lewis. I knew of him as the labor leader.”

“But my journalism teacher had set me up with a terrible question –I was too young to know it was so bad.”

“I go to the reception desk and I say that I’m to interview Mr. Lewis. He was in the reading room next to the park. I was scared to death. I did not know what I was doing, for one thing. And the other — he seemed like such a potent figure.”

“The hotel dog — the old bulldog Boots — had chewed up his hat. And he didn’t get  angry about it. He just said — aw, it was an old hat anyway. He was so kind and nice to me. I sat on the footstool. We talked and talked until I asked the deadly question, which was the question that the teacher had insisted that I ask.”

“I asked my teacher — how do you interview people? And she said — well, you ask questions. And then she said — and be sure to ask this one. It’s difficult, and I’m being filmed, to even say it.”

“It was this — Mr. Lewis, why do you work so hard for the coal miners to get a raise in pay when all they will do is buy a big long car to sit in front of their house?”

“And he immediately stopped me and that was the end of the interview. And he really let me have it. He said that I was overindulged, that I had been catered to and that I didn’t know what I was speaking — that part was true. That finished off the interview. But I wrote up the article for the high school paper like I was supposed to. But I left that question out. But I wonder why that teacher did that — why she asked such a question.”

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