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A bright red background superimposed over an image of a bridge; text readers Hell's Not Far Off: Bruce Crawford and the Appalachian Left by Josh Howard

Josh Howard

March 2024
PB 978-1-959000-10-5
eBook 978-1-959000-11-2

Hell's Not Far Off

Bruce Crawford and the Appalachian Left


Hell’s Not Far Off is a grounded, politically engaged study of the Appalachian journalist and political critic Bruce Crawford, a scourge of coal and railway interests. Crawford fought injustices wherever he saw them at major risk to his own life and became an early interpreter of Appalachian labor history.

His writings and actions from the 1920s to the 1960s helped shape southwest Virginia and West Virginia. Through Crawford’s Weekly, a newspaper active from 1920 to 1935, Crawford challenged the Ku Klux Klan, lynch mobs, and the private police forces of coal barons. The wounds received for these efforts were the closing of his paper and a bullet to his leg during a Harlan County strike in the 1930s. In his work after journalism, he led the West Virginia branch of the Federal Writers’ Project during the political standoff over the contents of the state’s official guidebook.

In Hell’s Not Far Off, Josh Howard resurrects strands of a radical tradition centered especially on matters of labor, environment, and race, drawing attention to that tradition’s ongoing salience: “Present-day Appalachia’s fights were [Crawford’s], and his fights are still ours.”




1. A Young Newspaper Editor

2. Getting Shot in Harlan County

3. A Critic Fails at Politics

4. The Editor as Public Historian

5. An Inability to Adapt





Josh Howard is the cofounder of Passel Applied History Consulting, where he works as an applied historian. He lives in Virginia with his partner and cat and writes about Appalachia, legal history, sports, and the National Park Service.


“Howard’s meticulous research and artful telling of Bruce Crawford’s story offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a radical newspaper publisher whose social and political impact extended well beyond the rural Appalachian community in which he published.”
Michael Clay Carey, author of The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia

“Appalachian mountain journalist and businessman Bruce Crawford was variously an outspoken critic of the 1920s Klan, a self-described leftist radical fighter for Appalachian coal mining families in the 1930s, a dedicated New Dealer who earned the wrath of an anti-union Democratic West Virginia governor, and a reactionary critic of Civil Rights and New Left activists. Despite his unpredictable political journey, Crawford’s reputation for personal bravery and integrity was never in question. Josh Howard’s work will rescue this brilliant, mercurial figure from undeserved obscurity and fascinate readers interested in Appalachian history and American politics.”
—John Hennen, author of A Union for Appalachian Healthcare Workers: The Radical Roots and Hard Fights of Local 1199