Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 12, 2013

Mining heritage

We must remember those we lost

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — A tour of the many cemeteries scattered across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia soon shows any visitor that many of the region’s residents were lost while they were working to earn a living.

Coal mining still claims lives today, and during the early days of the industry, it often claimed hundreds of lives at a time. In many cases, their grave markers are weathering away and fewer people remember the tragedies that rocked entire communities.

Even with safety precautions in place, coal mining is a hazardous profession. During World War I — a time when real safety precautions were almost nonexistent — more lives were being lost in the nation’s coal mines than were being lost on the battlefields of Europe.

Today many of the region’s communities work to ensure that the miners who lost their lives while providing for their families are not forgotten. In Oakwood, Va., the Buchanan County Historical Society recently held a memorial service for 45 miners who perished on April 22, 1938, when there was an explosion at the Red Jacket Coal Company’s Keen Mountain Mine.

A similar memorial service was recently conducted in the town of Pocahontas, Va. to honor 114 coal miners who died in an 1884 explosion at the East Mine.

In McDowell County, Boy Scouts are scheduled to work at a site near Havaco where 83 coal miners who died on March 26, 1912 in the Jed Mine explosion were buried in unmarked graves.

These efforts help the region’s communities remember their coal heritage and the people who sacrificed so much for their families.

Many cities and towns in the region where the Virginias meet would not exist today if it were not for the coal mines and the people who worked in them. Their work fueled America’s industrial revolution and powered the industries that armed the United States during times of war.

The work of today’s miners, many of them descendants of miners now lying at rest in cemeteries, still fuel industries and keep electricity flowing. Coal miners of yesterday performed the dirty, dangerous work that had to be done so the rest of the nation could prosper. Their descendants carry on that tradition today, and they know about the dangers that come with their profession.

Communities commemorating the miners who lost their lives are preserving history and ensuring that the names and resting places of lost miners do not fade away.

Tragedy struck when explosions and other disasters took their lives, and it would strike again if they were forgotten.