The Forgotten History of African-American Coal Towns in the United States


Nonetheless, racism and tragedy were also prominent, and the motor racing circuit takes travelers through these events as well. For example, he talks about the McKendree Miner Hospitalwhere African Americans injured in mining accidents were treated in separate hospital wards.

And there is a stop at Falcon’s Nest Tunnel Disaster: Starting in 1930, teams of mostly African-American men dug a three-mile tunnel that resulted in the deaths of at least 724 of them from silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling dust deadly silica. Today, the tragedy is marked by a memorial and a cemetery.

“Like all miners, they had to deal with extremely dangerous working conditions, but this was exacerbated by the fact that management tended to place black miners in the worst sections of the mines,” said Lou Martin, assistant professor of history at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. , Pennsylvania, specializing in Appalachian history.

Additionally, the Ku Klux Klan was active in the local coalfields. Some towns in the region were off-limits to African Americans or had sunset laws in place, which meant that they could not visit these towns after dark. In December 1919, two black coal miners were lynched.

A century later, the coalfields are largely silent. But for Fields, West and others, the contribution of West Virginia’s African-American miners to Appalachian history is undeniable, and the opening of the new national park is an opportunity to share it. “It’s an important story to tell,” West said. “It opens the doors – and our eyes – to a deeper understanding of those around us.”

Rediscover America is a BBC Travel series that tells the inspiring stories of forgotten, overlooked or misunderstood aspects of the United States, flipping the script on familiar history, cultures and communities.

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