Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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September 4, 2012

Pocahontas continues tradition of Labor Day salute to coal miners, working class

POCAHONTAS, Va. — More than 100 people turned out on another hot Labor Day in Pocahontas, Va., to hear a series of speakers who saluted the American labor movement as well as one political candidate who asked for the crowd’s support in November.

As part of the tradition, the coal miners and railroad workers — active and/or retired — marched through downtown Pocahontas, or rode on a hay wagon on the G-clef style miners’ march through the community. The weather was so hot and humid that several miners rode the hay wagon, but several participants still walked the parade route.

Thomas B. Childress, master of ceremonies, outlined the history of the Annual Coal Miner’s Reunion in Pocahontas, now in its 21st year. He said that in 1992, he and a handful of others gathered in the Emma Yates Library building on Center Street in Pocahontas to plan a celebration. He said the late Bob Barnett suggested including the old-fashioned political stump speeches in the program.

“It’s a statement of the worth of workers,” Childress said of the first Labor Day celebrated in September 1894. “In the U.S., Labor Day is celebrated for all labor groups,” he said, adding that all workers rally behind the same slogan: “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” he said.

The Reverend Russell Hatfield, pastor of the Christ Episcopal Church, Pocahontas, offered the invocation and the Reverend Reginald Blakewood, pastor of the Boissevain Baptist Church, sang the National Anthem. Arthur C. Scott, member of the Pocahontas Town Council, welcomed the audience.

“Today’s not about Pocahontas,” Scott said. “Today is about the men and women who pulled around under the earth.”

David Woodard. Northern District representative on the Tazewell County Board of Education, got a laugh from the audience when he joked about bringing an empty chair up to the stump with him, “but Clint Eastwood beat me to it,” but said that: “Great things come to those who pursue their dreams with vision.”

Lee Potter, a representative of the United Mine Workers of America, said he worked in the mines for 36 years. “Our union’s still going strong,” he said. He expressed his appreciation for the support of the crowd for the coal miners and railroad workers present.

State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, said that Labor Day is a day to recognize all workers. “We’re here today to specifically honor the coal miners,” he said. “Today, there’s a group out there — I won’t mention their name — who don’t want unions. They tell us we can’t afford them.” Puckett said.

Puckett went on to say that he is against giving tax breaks to millionaires. “This country was not built by millionaires,” Puckett said. “It was built by the working class. I’m not for tax cuts for wealthy people. If they extend these tax cuts, the wealthy will keep getting richer.” He encouraged people to go out and vote on Nov. 7, and stand beside those who oppose giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

Childress said that he had invited U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., to attend the event, but after three weeks of trying to schedule his appearance, his staff said he would be honoring a previous commitment.

Griffith’s opponent in the Ninth Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Anthony Flaccavento, attended and spoke. He said that coal miners are like soldiers. They both have dangerous jobs and are both on the front lines.

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re honoring coal miners,” Flaccavento said. “I’m a farmer and a small businessman from near Abingdon. One thing that farmers and coal miners have in common is that people take both of us for granted,” he said. “People expect their food will be available when they want it and people expect their power and electricity to be ready when they want to use it.”

He said that he won’t change if he is elected. “I believe I can bring that perspective with me to Washington, D.C., because there aren’t many farmers or coal miners up there right now,” Flaccavento said. “That’s who I am. That’s who I’ll represent.”

Childress recognized David Anderson, Tazewell County Commissioner of Revenue, as well as Tazewell County Supervisors Mike Hymes, chair, and Charles Stacy.  Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt, spoke on behalf of all Tazewell County constitutional officers.

“I thank you all for all the work that you have done,” Hieatt said.

Hubert Clark, 91, of Abbs Valley, Va., was recognized as the oldest retired coal miner attending and got $100 from Rodriguez Funeral Home. Roy Williams and Robert Farley, both 88, got $25 Visa gift cards from BB&T Bank of Bluefield, Va., for placing second.

Clark said he started working at the Pocahontas Fuel Mine in Jenkinjones when he was 20 years old, but was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II and remained in the service until 1946. He went back to the mines where he worked at the cleaning plant, but sold insurance for many years after leaving the mines.

Jean Boone, Cassie Wiggins and Amy Flick aided Childress in drawing for prizes. The Reverend Blakewood sang “God Bless America,” and offered the benediction along with the blessing of the Coal Miners’ Dinner that followed the program.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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