A few years ago, I posted this meme on Facebook. It came after I had a few family members tell me “Coal is what raised you!” It was a phrase I’d also heard from the angry wives of coal miners in their comments to some of my earliest posts. It got me to thinking about my childhood, and the many things that did “raise me.”
In January, I came across the first of a new series on the Daily Yonder titled “In the Black.” It is an accurate and gritty portrayal of coal mining as told through the personal story of former eastern Kentucky coal miner, Gary Bentley. Admittedly, I lost track and didn’t continue with the series before eventually dropping back in on his 16th installment, “An Unlikely Band of Brothers.” As with the first segment, a theme of drug abuse emerged, painting present day miners in a not so flattering light.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Scotia Mine Disaster that took the lives of 15 miners on March 9th, 1976, and a second explosion that took the lives of 11 mine rescue personnel on March 11th.
There is an unspoken promise that has been made by politicians and coal companies in Appalachia. It states that if people fight against the “War on Coal” companies can begin to open up mines again, thereby sending miners back to work making good money. There is the promise that Appalachia can be made great again, and that life will somehow improve beyond what it ever has been. But it is a promise that can never be fulfilled—it is a promise that has never been fulfilled.
There are many times I have been writing a post and stopped mid-thought to reflect on purpose and place. The majority of what I have stated on this blog and in public address is nothing original. My thoughts are simply reiterations precipitated from decades of struggle. Perhaps the only thing new is the time in which I speak them.
A few friends re-posted the article below on Facebook and it spurred my thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart.
There are some miners who think only of themselves, who take the paychecks and say “I’m a proud coal miner, with a proud heritage,” then spit hatred towards anyone who says anything negative about their beloved coal industry. Of course, I should put much of the last statement in the past tense because that “beloved” coal industry has done exactly what I’ve expected, they’re pulling up stakes and leaving us with nothing—again. But hey, at least they have the common decency to ask for millions of dollars in bonuses for their CEOs while they strip their aging coal miners of their pensions and healthcare benefits. That last sentence was loaded with sarcasm if you couldn’t tell.
We didn’t have rail at Alpha Natural Resources’ Paramont Deep Mine 26, even though it was Southwest Virginia’s second largest mine at the time. Entry in and out of the mine was down an 2,500 ft. slope to reach a vertical depth of roughly 400 feet and access to the Lower Banner Seam. I recalled the rumors when DM 26 first opened in the early 2000s. A lot of the older miners kept talking about how “hot” it was. In mining terms, “hot” means there’s a lot of methane gas thereby increasing the risk of a mine explosion. The rumors were true, and at one point the mine was liberating seven million cubic feet of methane every 24 hours, more when low pressure systems would pass through. None of it was recovered.