I’m from a state known primarily for coal mining disasters… That and a John Denver tune erroneously identifying the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River as prominent features in West Virginia, when they’re really located in neighboring states. Every time I go home, it seems that the area has crumbled more than the last visit.
Appalachia’s economic and social fabric remains completely intertwined with that of the coal companies, whose influence remains strong despite decades of plummeting employment figures. Early on, a huge influx of Eastern Europeans and African Americans arrived in the area beginning in 1883. They willingly volunteered for underground work in the largest mineral belt in the world, suffering through black lung disease, unsafe conditions that persist to this day, as well as living in “company towns” where usurious corporations paid in currency only accepted by company-owned stores, etc.
The foundation of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) simultaneously helped alleviate some of the miners’ injustices, while spawning some of the largest worker-related conflicts in American history – the so-called “Mine Wars” – as well as the infamous Battle of Matewan, prominently featuring the Hatfields / Martins / McCoys.
That said, the video above lit a fire under my rear to keep my eyes open wider than usual during my upcoming trip home, hopefully finding that silver lining (even if it’s only aesthetic) in what is ultimately a pretty downtrodden cultural history.