Leaving the coal mines

I think about West Virginia often. Especially, when I hear about a coal mining accident (which seems to happen too often). Coal mining has to be the most difficult, and dangerous way to make a living I can think of. And, a lot of my family has done it for years.


I went to my family reunion last weekend in Point Pleasant West Virginia. We have it every year, But, I haven’t been to one in quite a while. I didn’t exactly socialize. Mostly, I stood in the corner and ate my hotdog with onions, mustard, chili, and slaw (when in Rome, you know). But, over the last few days my thoughts have been filled with family memories, and, thoughts of what could have been if I had stayed in WV. And, of coal mines – of course.  

We moved away from WV when I was 3. My father was determined to get his family out of the state, and he thought we’d have a better life and more opportunities in Tennessee. He might have been right, I’m not really sure. Yes, West Virginia is struggling economically. The coal mine industry is in decline. And, the state seems very much the same as it did in the 1970s, only more run-down. But, I believe our individual character is made from the contents of our family history. Our family forms the foundation of who we are today. And, we are an extension of that heritage. So, I went to the reunion. And I talked to my Uncle Nelson who worked in the mines for most of his life. Nelson’s hands were rough and he shook my hand so hard it hurt. He didn’t want to let go. So, I let go first. But, then I said “uhm.. I’m sorry, if you want to shake more that’s ok”. Then I shook his hand again. I know…, that was kind of awkward. But, I was really glad to see him again. I guess you can leave the coal mine, but the coal mine isn’t going to leave you. That stuff sticks to you –  like black lung.  


While I was thinking about my family’s heritage and coal mining, I ran across Jack Corn’s photos from the U.S. National Archives Photo stream on Flickr. Check them out for some amazing Coal mining images –> HERE  

For his DOCUMERICA assignment, Jack Corn focused his lens on the plight of the American coal miner, capturing images of the many lives touched by unsafe working conditions, low wages and black lung disease.


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