Friday, April 1, 2011
Working in a coal mine...
Today we took a class to the Beckley Coal Mine Museum in Beckley, West Virigina. Of course, it was snowing. Lots. This is a photo from their webpage that gives a deceptive look at the weather... but, anyhow...
It was a fascinating trip. We toured the mine in coal cars! The exhibits included a well restored coal school (for the miners' children), the church, the superindentent's house, a single man's house, and a married family man's house. Coal was king in this part of the world and miners worked hard for very little. It is true that they "owed their soul to the company store." They were paid in script, which was company money, and it was only good in the company store. Why they couldn't even tithe with it as the church would not accept it!
If a man were killed in the mine, his family would have two weeks to leave their home, which was owned by the company, unless there was another male family member to take the dead man's place. As in every other part of the U.S., women had no rights at all in the mining community. Everything centered around the man and his relationship with the company. Women had to make do with very little for their families as every item in the company store was marked up. Usually workers ended up owing money at the end of the week or brought home less than a dollar.
The Union came into this region in the 1920s and organized the workers so they would earn a better wage and to break the company structure -- home ownership and script. And, provide for much safer mines for the workers. Workers were typically paid 20-cents per ton. Most miners earned $2 a day in 1920. Do the math. Isn't that tragic??
Although we live less than 100 miles from the mines, most of our students had no idea about the extreme hardships these people faced. It is a powerful thing to connect with one's culture. Trust me, I think a bus load of students returned home feeling pretty doggone blessed! I did!
Enjoy Tennesse Ernie Ford singing "16 Tons" with some great photos of actual miners!