In memoriam: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster

Photo by Bob Campione

Bonnie Stewart, an award-winning journalist and former professor of journalism at West Virginia University, is the editorial adviser for Daily Titan, California State University, Fullerton’s student newspaper. While at WVU, she spent five years researching and writing No.9: The 1968 Farmington Coal Mine Disaster, an investigative book about the mining disaster that killed seventy-eight men at a Consolidation Coal Company mine on November 20, 1968. In 2014, the miners’ families sued the coal company, which subpoenaed Stewart for unpublished interviews. Claiming reporter’s privilege under the First Amendment, she fought the subpoena in federal court and won.

Fifty years have passed since seventy-eight coal miners died underground in the Consolidation Coal No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia. Some good came from that tragedy. The deaths moved Congress to pass the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which is credited with saving untold numbers of miners. Although that has given the families of the seventy-eight dead some comfort, it has not erased what happened that cold November day in 1968 or why it happened.

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Local control, global perspective: Moving beyond coal and creating new jobs

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Musicians from Appalachia and Wales at the BBC Radio Wales studio.

Tom Hansell’s book After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales will be published by WVU Press on November 1. In this opinion piece drawn from his research for the book, Hansell reacts to President Trump’s plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, and argues that Appalachia can, drawing on lessons from other parts of the world, work toward a post-coal future.

Last week President Trump traveled to West Virginia to announce his intention to scrap the Clean Power Plan, sounding a death knell for federal regulations on carbon emissions. While it’s undeniable that environmental regulations have a negative impact on coal jobs, the President ignores the fact that in states like West Virginia, coal and natural resources comprise only 3 percent of the state economy, according to a recent West Virginia College of Business report.Read More »

“Once again the Mine Wars demand our attention”: Lou Martin introduces Never Justice, Never Peace

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Never Justice, Never Peace: Mother Jones and the Miner Rebellion at Paint and Cabin Creeks, by Lon Kelly Savage and Ginny Savage Ayers, will be published by WVU Press on September 1. In this post, adapted from his introduction to the book, historian Lou Martin (who received his PhD from West Virginia University) talks about the context for the strike, and argues for the relevance of the West Virginia Mine Wars during our own period of labor activism and political contest.

Paint Creek. Cabin Creek. Holly Grove. Cesco Estep. Mucklow. Frank Keeney. Mother Jones. Solidarity Forever. The places and the people of the Paint Creek–Cabin Creek Strike are buried deep in the American memory of the labor movement and the working-class struggle for rights and justice. The strike occurred in the “age of industrial violence,” before there were laws to govern labor relations, and for many it revealed the darkest depths of capitalism in America but also the indomitable spirit of workers organized in the face of great odds. Despite its tragic loss of life, despite its importance in the history of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and despite being a cause célèbre among the labor activists of the era, this conflict in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields remains little known today except among historians and the coal mining families of southern West Virginia.Read More »

Guilt by omission: A photojournalist recounts an untold story

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Earl Groves, the owner-operator of a steam-driven sawmill in Deep Hollow, West Virginia.

Nancy L. Abrams began her journalism career in Terra Alta, West Virginia, where she was managing editor of The Preston County News, a job she held for a decade. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Nancy trained as a photojournalist. She holds an MFA in creative writing-nonfiction from The New School. Out now, The Climb from Salt Lick: A Memoir of Appalachia recounts her time as a small-town reporter in West Virginia.

I remember my first trip to see Earl Groves. I had been told about his sawmill, powered by a steam engine. A relic from the past located in a place called Deep Hollow. The narrow gravel road curled along a creek colored bright orange by acid mine drainage. Great heaps of coal waste–gob piles–loomed overhead. Sunlight could barely breach the sharp cleft between the hills. The sawmill was a brown skeleton in the ruined landscape.

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Hope and contradictions in Appalachia

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WVU student Tristan Dennis warms up before a concert at Washington Lands Elementary School, Marshall County, WV. Credit: Raymond Thompson.

Travis Stimeling is an associate professor of music history at West Virginia University, a series editor and author with WVU Press, and a member of the WVU Humanities Center advisory board. He was instrumental in helping bring Elizabeth Catte, the press’s new editor at large, to WVU for this week’s talk cosponsored with the humanities center and the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas. Here he responds to Catte’s presentation.

Earlier this week, WVU Press’s new editor at large Elizabeth Catte visited Morgantown to participate in WVU’s Festival of Ideas and to serve as a much-needed counterpoint to Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who spoke at the university on February 21. Vance’s talk reinforced familiar negative stereotypes about Appalachia at nearly every turn—we’re deliberately ignorant, too lazy to work, and too dependent on government assistance to want to do anything to take ownership over our lives—and blamed “environmental” and “cultural” factors for the region’s problems. On the other hand, Catte—who holds a Ph.D. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University—argued that these negative stereotypes have often been deployed by people who did not always have the best interest of Appalachians at heart, including missionaries, extractive industry leaders, politicians, and even eugenicists.

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On fracking: A writer’s revolt against an extractive industry in West Virginia

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Laura Leigh Morris is an assistant professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where she teaches creative writing and literature. Before that, she spent three years as the National Endowment for the Arts/Bureau of Prisons Artist-in-Residence at Bryan Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas. She’s previously published short fiction in Appalachian Heritage, the Louisville Review, the Notre Dame Review, and other journals. She is originally from north central West Virginia. Jaws of Life, now available, is her debut book.

I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car, my eyes on the road, an attempt to stave off motion sickness on the winding roads between Wetzel and Marion Counties. We were on our way back from visiting my great-aunt and -uncle in Rymer. We rounded the hundredth curve only to be blinded by lights—1000+ watt industrial lights that allowed hydraulic fracturing to continue 24 hours/day.

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“I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles”: Todd Snyder on his new book, and two young boxers who made it

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Long before I was a first-generation college student or professor of rhetoric and composition, I was the son of a full-time West Virginia coal miner and part-time boxing coach, Mike “Lo” Snyder. For a short period of time, my father was one of the most respected boxing trainers in the state. For just over 40 years, he was a coal miner. I write about both sides of my father’s masculine ethos in my book 12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia, which will be published March 1 by WVU Press. It was in my hometown of Cowen, West Virginia, that my perspectives on Appalachian life were shaped by the beauty and brutality of life in coal country – experiences that continue to inform my research and writing on Appalachian culture.

12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym is about my father’s experiences but also – through stories of young fighters from West Virginia – about individual and community strength in the face of globalism’s headwinds. I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles.Read More »