“Our love of our families within these mountains binds us to an economic plight the coal industry has inflicted upon us. We are made to destroy the same mountains we once cherished as our own, poison the streams we must drink from, and, as if a sickeningly demented joke, watch the coal industry weave their web of deceptions upon us to the point that many of my fellow Appalachians believe coal is worth fighting for.” – Daniel Hawkins
Since this is my first time blogging, I suppose I should at least explain who I am.
I am, or was, a fourth generation underground coal miner. My family has lived within the Appalachian Mountains since before the revolutionary war. They came to these mountains fleeing their indentured slavery in the tobacco fields of the east so many generations ago. In later generations my sixth great grandfather fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain as one of the famed Overmountain Men obtaining a victory that was later considered to be the turning point in the revolutionary war.
Sadly though, our people have long been touted as ignorant, inbred, toothless hillbillies. While I cannot completely deny there are some toothless and/or ignorant people living within the mountains, I believe the percentage of those afflicted would be no different than that of other geographic areas. Our people just so happen to have a stereotype which is interesting and easily made fun of by the masses. While many other races and stereotypes are able to deter such derogatory treatment by social and political authority, we have no such regress. We continue to bear the brunt of so many jokes and ideals.
We are now the people who are in the way of progress, and by progress I mean greed. Somehow we became exploited into greed in later generations. As time wore on we began letting more insatiable people from Wall Street enter our mountainous domain. They came in the form of land companies, timber companies, and coal companies, all of which deceived our forefathers with the promise of money for nothing.
Now we are left with the remains, small parcels of once beautiful mountain majesties. The larger portions, now owned by coal companies, are ruthlessly torn apart to satisfy shareholder’s financial expectations. We have become a resource as well. We are the human resource these masters of industry, these barons of ravenous greed have enslaved us to do their work.
Our love of our families within these mountains binds us to an economic plight the coal industry has inflicted upon us. We are made to destroy the same mountains we once cherished as our own, poison the streams we must drink from, and, as if a sickeningly demented joke, watch the coal industry weave their web of deceptions upon us to the point that many of my fellow Appalachians believe coal is worth fighting for. Coal miners, mountain people like me, now fight alongside the coal industry to keep on mining, continuously poisoning, and irreversibly destroying that which is and has been our home.
Being amongst the X generation I was raised in the coal fields during a unique time. Technological advances crept into the mountains, and my father, having a union job in one of the larger mines of the region, saw fit to supply me and my brother with these latest advances. Through C-Band satellite TV we were given a window into the outside world. A Commodore computer eventually led us into the PC world, and then the internet.
My affinities for science and literature, coupled with this new age of information, set me apart from many of my peers. I was a social exile having few commonalities with my fellow students. When I left the confines of public education I failed to continue into the higher realms of knowledge by attending college. Instead I embarked upon a journey that led me away from the mountains. No matter how hard I tried, I was ultimately drawn back to them. I became settled, and after spending many years avoiding the coal industry I eventually succumbed to the temptation of a higher wage that could not be made in the department stores and call centers I previously worked in.
I took a job as an underground miner, eager to feel the pride which came with working a dangerous job to provide for my family. It did not take long to realize I could not simply put my head down and suffer a life of labor in the darkness. Those feelings of pride were soon replaced with that of ignorance and shame. I realized I had failed in life, I had failed my father, and I had failed my family. I was not a coal miner, and despite the many days I spent in the darkest reaches of a coal mine, my heart never ceased in its longing to break free of the bonds I set upon myself. I began to write, and through opportunities provided to me by the staff of Appalachian Voices I was able to set my mind free. Through recent unfortunate circumstances I have become the optimist, seeing opportunities and breaking the bonds of tradition. As I continue down this path I feel better things will come.
Now, I can fight against the plight so many of my fellow Appalachians face, hoping to ensure a better future for my children, the newest generation to live within these wonderful mountains. I hope somehow, someway, I can persuade the minds of those enslaved to the coal industry’s deceptions. I hope I may open their eyes to the devastation that surrounds them and the economic disparities controlling them. For now they see a wage only rivaled by college graduates, but one day they will hopefully realize the ultimate cost of such income and fight for something better.
Daniel Hawkins is a former coal miner from Virginia. Having finally gotten fed up with current labor practices and environmental destruction within today’s Appalachian coal mines, he has left the mines in search of a better future for his family. In this series, he looks into Appalachia’s past and possibilities for the future. You can find his full series on his own blog, http://thoughtfulcoalminer.blogspot.com/. This post originally appeared on Daniel’s blog on Thursday, October 7, 2010.