Coal: The Impact of Underground Mining on Black and White Family Life in a Small West Virginia Coal Town

An interracial documentary project conducted over the past 18 months in Mount Hope, WV in the heart of the New River coal fields has yielded 40 life-story interviews from sons and daughters of coal miners focusing on the whole fabric of life and work in this small, diverse town a half-century ago. The defining occupation was deep mining with all of its attendant dangers, health hazards, and intricate working relationships. The resulting impacts on family and society come alive in this conversational audio documentary inter-weaving spoken memories from 60 hours of field recordings. From livelihood to loss of life, these heart-rending voices portray the struggles and camaraderie of this iconic work, facing down stereotypes of race relations in the region. A mixture of southern blacks, European immigrants, and white laborers from hard-scrabble local farms were all employed underground, working together and watching each others' backs. The resulting bonds that grew among working coal miners shaped the social milieu of the town above and minimized differences and conflicts across the usual boundaries of race, class and ethnicity found in other regions. Sentiments that,“When everybody came out of the mines, they were all black anyway,” resonate through the interviews. Listening to and discussing succeeding segments of this captivating audio piece in a 75 minute presentation with an interracial panel of respondents will engage ASA membership with traditional coalfield hardships and strategies across racial and ethnic lines. It will generate empathy and wider understanding of coalfield struggles and resiliency throughout Appalachia and beyond.