Miners and families at the meat counter in subsidiary company store. Store has ample, clean refrigerated space. The meat department was clean. U.S. Coal and Coke Company, Gary Mines, Gary, McDowell County, West Virginia., 08/16/1946 (NARA)
Children of Clabe Hicks, miner, Ten people, two adults and eight children live in a four room house for which they pay $11 monthly, plus $1 monthly for water and $2 monthly for electricity, 08/27/1946 (NARA)
At approximately 3 p.m. two years ago today the lives of 29 coal miners were snuffed out in a massive explosion that roared underground along the Raleigh-Boone county line.
Until that day, other than the miners, their families, and some others in the coal industry, most of us had never even heard of the Upper Big Branch mine at Montcoal.
That all changed when something ignited an abundance of methane gas, that in turn mixed with coal dust and created the lethal blast. As we would come to learn just a few days later, the end result would be the worst coal mining disaster in our country since the 1970s.
Time seemed to stand still for nearly a week in southern West Virginia as hundreds worked furiously to try to determine if any of those miners still unaccounted for could have survived. By Saturday the hope turned to heartache.
The past 24 months have certainly allowed the wounds to somewhat mend, but the hurt and the memories, the bitterness, will always remain in some fashion for all those left behind.
Family members, friends, other miners from UBB, the community in general — all are still coping in various ways, some faring better than others.
And while the healing is continuing, many still want answers and accountability.
That process, too, has started but is nowhere near completion.
So today we pay tribute to those 29 brave souls. We remember their sacrifice, and we urge those in charge to make sure every single person who was responsible for this horrific event, in any way, faces punishment.
It’s the least we must do and its the precursor to setting the tone so that something so tragic as this never happens again.
A part of everyday life in McDowell County that unnerves many visitors is meeting a huge 18-wheeler coal truck in a curve on one of the narrow roads common to the area. In fact, it unnerves some of the natives as well. The truck you see in the first picture is on a main highway that passes through the middle of a cemetery. I was told that Ripley’s Believe It Or Not lists the cemetery as the only cemetery in America that has a major roadway that passes through it. The cemetery is located in the Venus section of Gary.
The truck in the second picture is passing by an abandoned apartment building in Hemphill near Welch. As you can see there is not a lot of passing room when you encounter one of these huge trucks.
I love seeing these trucks on the highway, because I know it means jobs for somebody somewhere.
A coal miner and his family. African Americans were recruited and imported from across the country to help address the shortage of miners in central Appalachia. Many came from deep south Alabama where they were experienced in coal mining but most came inexperienced off the farms of the upper south. The N&W and other railroads that crossed Virginia and the Carolina’s were major conduits. Though most were lured with promises of good jobs and high wages, many were shanghaied.
The interactive doc definitely has it’s own aesthetic/scrapbook feel. When I first experienced the piece I felt it was a bit overwhelming and lacked solid storytelling but my opinion was changed after a second viewing. I have now walked away with a huge appreciation for the amazing sound design in the project. Welcome to Pine Point combines photographs, sound and video clips, interviews, music, and narration to explore the memories of people from the town. Experience it for yourself here
Photographer, Les Stone, has been photographing the coal industry for the past 3 years in McDowell County. There are some really beautiful photos on the blog. It seems there is a new project about coal mining coming out of West Virginia on a daily basis ( and there has been for the past 50 years). Growing up in a coal-mining family I believe it is time that we start sharing stories from West Virginians who aren’t coal miners. Hollow will focus on the MANY other people—artists, students, entrepreneurs, teachers—and unique characteristics that make up the communities across Southern West Virginia.
Documentary Filmmaker to Explore Parallels Between Welsh, Appalachian Mining Communities
The coalfields of Appalachia are running out of coal, and there’s not a large-scale effort to diversify the region’s economy. But there are lessons to be learned from a similar transition in an unlikely place: the small United Kingdom country of Wales. Now, a documentary filmmaker is exploring parallels between 1980s Wales and modern-day Appalachia.
“So often you hear about coal issues, particularly in Kentucky, as very emotional ‘jobs versus environment,’” he said. “And I think there are real reasons for that, but what I’m hoping to do in this project is actually look beyond that immediate conflict.
“Because we know that coal is a finite resource. So what I want to do is look beyond that and imagine a future after coal and use the Welsh experience to start people talking about ‘what can we do when the mines run out?’”
Up until the 1970s and 1980s, many regions of Wales were dependent on coal. When the mines began closing, unemployment rose to over 50 percent and poverty rates skyrocketed. Hansell says the Welsh government began the recovery by instituting programs to clean up the “coal tips,” or environmentally-destructive piles of coal waste.
I found a five-part series on "The Social Crisis in Appalachia" this morning. It was written in August of 2010. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but it seems to focus on Welch and Williamson West Virginia, as well as Harlan, Kentucky. I don’t think there is any question that there is some bias in this reporting—it is from the World Socialist Web Site—but it might be worth a read and seems to cover many issues such as prospects for young people, education, workforce, quality of life.