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Topic: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan

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DunkingDan

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‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« on: January 14, 2020, 07:33:10 PM »

In April 2019, Radcliffe (Ruddy) Roye traveled to Lynch, Kentucky, to photograph black miners in a town that once boasted the largest coal camp in the world. He found a community of fewer than 700 people, without industry, left behind and largely forgotten in national conversations about coal country that presume a white face. What follows are Ruddy’s images and stories from this vibrant but fading community.

—The Editors


Lynch was established in Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1917 by US Steel, which owned and ran the lives of the 10,000 residents, whom the company employed in the coal camps at the peak of Lynch’s prosperity. I say “owned and ran” because, according to the black former miners I interviewed in Lynch from April 4 through 10, 2019, they felt they had little choice in what they were ordered to do in the mines. The US’s most important energy resource at the time, the coal produced in Lynch was shipped around the country.
It was difficult, dangerous work. The mines’ shafts ran from at least twelve to eighteen miles underground. It was difficult to breathe down there, the air thick and ill-ventilated, and you were often working with water up to your waist, knowing that thousands of tons of rock and mud could collapse on you at any time. The black miners, in particular, were often responsible for doing the grunt-work of “pinning” or “roof bolting”—supporting the roof to protect against cave-ins. Though it was the highest risk job, it’s still striking that white miners trusted them with this important task, but the black miners would also be scapegoated when things went wrong.
In the early days, miners had to work sick. If a black worker called in unwell, it was likely that a doctor would be sent to the home to examine him. If the man was judged to be exaggerating, he would be told to report to the mine or, worse, fired on the spot.
For blacks, there were instances of three or more families living in one house together. Some of the miners I spoke to described men being smuggled north in the middle of the night from Alabama and other southern states. These men had to prove their worth in the mines before the company would allow them to send for their wives and families. They worked under brutish and horrible conditions knowing that any level of insubordination would lead to immediate expulsion, not only from the mine but also from the state of Kentucky.
In the Depression years, between 1931 and 1939, the Harlan County War, also known as “Bloody Harlan,” saw significant and violent battles between the miners and the United Mine Workers union on one side, and coal firms and law enforcement on the other. In the boom years that followed, just over half of the miners were black, according to Bennie Massie, who worked in the mines for decades.
The miners’ bath houses were segregated, but otherwise miners of all races worked together and depended on one another. The United Mine Workers promised better wages, benefits, and working conditions. The union established equal pay between black and white miners, and abolished payment in the form of scrips, which could only be redeemed at the US Steel-owned commissary—the notorious “company store” that turned miners into little more than indentured laborers—in favor of regular pay checks.



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President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

harvestalvol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2020, 08:32:18 PM »
My father grew up in Mary Helen coal camp, Harlan County. Lots of interesting stories, some of which are probably true. 

DunkingDan

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2020, 08:49:31 PM »
My father grew up in Mary Helen coal camp, Harlan County. Lots of interesting stories, some of which are probably true.
I know where that is, just past Chevrolet. My Mom grew up in Ligett and Dad between Mary Alice and Harlan
President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

harvestalvol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2020, 09:18:25 PM »
Apparently there were lots of killings in his day. He said the house was so cold in the winter that they had to go outside to warm up. 

He now collects scrip. 

harvestalvol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2020, 09:24:38 PM »
There is a Chapter in Gadewell's Outliers dedicated to Harlan. 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/outliers-and-the-hillbill_b_147756?guccounte

Gladwell devotes an entire chapter of the book to Harlan, Kentucky.  A place I am pretty familiar with.  I’ve been there countless times and my daughters were born in an adjoining county.

Nothing suggests that Gladwell has been near Harlan, but that doesn’t stop him from being an expert on it, anyway.

Although Outliers is subtitled, “The Story of Success,” Gladwell thinks the people in Harlan are a bunch of losers.  He calls it “a remote and strange place” and tells the story of a 1930’s fight between the Turner family and the Howard family.  He spends the rest of the chapter promoting a theory that people in Appalachia are more prone to violence than people in the north because of their “Scotch-Irish heritage.”

HK_Vol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2020, 09:46:11 PM »
My grandfather was an insurance adjustor for coal mine claims in NE Tennessee and SE Kentucky.  He certainly had some good stories.

DunkingDan

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2020, 08:25:49 AM »
My grandfather was an insurance adjustor for coal mine claims in NE Tennessee and SE Kentucky.  He certainly had some good stories.
Do you know what counties in SE KY?  

I would think Campbell and Claiborne in TN 
President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

gymvol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2020, 09:05:19 AM »
Coal miners in KY, TN and other areas of Appalachia lived a hard life. Many of the mines paid in company script, miners lived in company a house and bought everything at the company store because that's the only place their script could be used.

In from East TN my dad was a coal miner but wouldn't work a mine that paid in script. I also had an older brother who worked the coal mines in Harlan.

Harlan at one time was more famous for its production of moonshine than coal mining.





https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5VMZqgVzRo
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DunkingDan

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2020, 04:37:21 PM »
Coal miners in KY, TN and other areas of Appalachia lived a hard life. Many of the mines paid in company script, miners lived in company a house and bought everything at the company store because that's the only place their script could be used.

In from East TN my dad was a coal miner but wouldn't work a mine that paid in script. I also had an older brother who worked the coal mines in Harlan.

Harlan at one time was more famous for its production of moonshine than coal mining.





https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5VMZqgVzRo
Bloody Harlan

Yes lots of Moonshine made in them hills. 

I recall some of the strikes they had and having to get permission to go from one spot to another or you stood a good chance of being shot

Apparently there were lots of killings in his day. He said the house was so cold in the winter that they had to go outside to warm up.

He now collects scrip.
I recall the side of me facing a coal stove being toasty warm and the other side ice cold.

Going to the outhouse with waste deep snow was no fun either

There was a sheriff there at one time who they shot at in his office and missed, blew up his patrol car and finally blew up his home, It Was only after that that he resigned with the remark he guessed they did not want him as their sheriff any longer
President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

HK_Vol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2020, 05:57:29 PM »
Do you know what counties in SE KY? 
I would think Campbell and Claiborne in TN


Dunno.  Need to ask my dad.
I am sure as to Campbell County - as he knew Conrad Troutman Sr. relatively well.

DunkingDan

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2020, 06:15:12 PM »
Do you know what counties in SE KY? 
I would think Campbell and Claiborne in TN


Dunno.  Need to ask my dad.
I am sure as to Campbell County - as he knew Conrad Troutman Sr. relatively well.
Scott, Anderson, Fentress and a few other counties had active Coal Mines for years..

Some time if you don't know about it look up The Coal Creek War is a interesting and little known piece of Tenn. history.  
President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

DunkingDan

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2020, 06:57:41 PM »
You all should remember this place

President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”

HK_Vol

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2020, 09:01:53 PM »
I asked my grandfather how he avoided ever getting in trouble up there.
He told me from the get-go that you never, ever discuss religion or politics.
Served him well.


Nate924

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Re: ‘They Will Remember Us’: The Miners of Black Harlan
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2020, 10:09:30 PM »
My father in law grew up in Logan WV and worked in the coal mines. His grandfather arrested Devil Anse Hatfield once. The family still has the handcuffs. My FiL’s father fought in the coal wars. 

The family lived in a coal camp and scrip was used for commerce.

 

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