The other night, I watched an interesting documentary about coal mining in Appalachia. My husband and I are always looking to find interesting and educational programs to watch online (we do not have television), and that was what we found interesting on that particular evening. One of the things that I found most interesting about the people that are mining coal today is that many of them are descended from other coal miners.
Coal mining has changed a great deal since the days where all of the work was done by hand. The work is still very dangerous, and very dirty despite the introduction of machines that help miners to extract more coal from the hills faster than ever before. The stories of the families that have lived and worked in coal mining towns for generations are fascinating. Before the organization of labor, conditions in the mines were dangerous at best and fatalities were common. Living conditions for miners and their families were poor, and they had to survive on very little. Often, the mining companies owned the very houses that the miners lived in and controlled every aspect of their day to day lives. There was not much that the miners could do about their situation than make do with it as it was and keep on working.
When labor unions began to form in the late 1890’s, coal miners were able to demand better pay for their work and better living conditions for themselves and their families. Since most miners were part of the unions, a strike could bring production to a standstill until an agreement was reached. Even after pay and working conditions began to improve, miners often lived modestly but something about the work inspired sons to learn the trade from their fathers. They say that there is something intangible that keeps them going back for more. Something that makes them proud that they do what they do, and that makes them long to be back in the mines after they have retired or have been forced off of the job by black lung disease or other disabilities. The coal miners that have fueled America for decades worked hard to provide for their loved ones, and even though their lives were often cut short by accident or by disease, their families are proud of their coal mining legacy.
Photo by nasirkhan on morguefile.com