Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tribute To The Coal Miners in My Appalachian Family

Well....I have one post about Coal and said that's all I'd ever do. But with the Don Blankenship indictment and trial on the news it's brought back some memories, stories and issues that we just deal with everyday. It's as if we are going backward.

Massey has already produced a video on You Tube about the Upper Big Branch mining disaster saying everything from it was a natural gas explosion, (which if it was, their equipment was screwed up there too) to MSHA is incompetent to oversee mining regulations in operations, to attacking the personal lives of people involved in the indictments. You can go find it. I'm not even giving space for what my union family members would call, "company sucks".  Instead read this Don Blankenship Indictment then go find the video and form your own opinion.

I say prayers every day for those of my family and friends that still work in the coal mining industry. I'm telling you....the mining industry today reminds me SO MUCH of some of the stories of struggle of the past. Thought we fought that war but then so many are non-union. Got so mad at the propaganda video some elderly feller saying miners won't work in unsafe conditions...they just demand and walk out. He's so out of date. He's remembering a time when there was a union to back them. Today....that just gets you pink slip.

With so few mining jobs, (read my other post on Coal here. It's not the EPA that did it), competition is so fierce for those few jobs left it's like the union fights never existed. Just ask anyone even just driving a coal truck. The wages have dropped down so bad, especially for a job that is as dangerous as a cocked pistol being put in a clothes dryer. It's a shame.

That's not to say all mine operations are bad. We KNOW how to mine coal and do it safely for miners. The push for profits over miners safety has always been a problem though. Those companies that cut corners make it hard for companies that play by the rules to compete.

Anyway, I thought it would be amiss if I didn't do at least one post to honor some of my kinfolk.

Now mind you....most of my kinfolk and my feller Ed's kinfolk were mountain people. If you ever saw the movie Matewan and the hill folk come out to stop the Baldwin-Felts detectives from causing trouble in a miner's camp with Civil War era guns? That's mostly what our kin people were. They had lived in these mountains for generations without coal mining. Many didn't find it necessary to go down in a dark hole to make a living.

But Uncle Sid and Uncle Otis Perdue represent two that were in the mining industry and like so many of my family that were...died young.

Uncle Sid and Otis Perdue were brothers. Two of the 13 children of Felix and Araminta "Minnie" Kitts Perdue. Sid and Otis Perdue's grandparents, John Perdue and Fannie Van Wooten Perdue, hailed from Wilkes County, North Carolina. John changed his name from Pardue to Perdue when he moved north after the Civil War. We are not exactly sure why. He served in the Confederacy with the 2nd North Carolina infantry and his brother Phillip died at Gettysburg.

Fannie Van Wooten Perdue would be living down the road with her son William in McDowell County, WV when she died in 1923. Felix Perdue, their father was a farm laborer. Sid and Otis mother, Minnie Kitts Perdue, was from Burkes Garden, Virginia.  I wrote about her father John David Kitts on another post.

Uncle Sid who was born December 25th 1900, moved to McDowell County at a young age and started mining in his teens. My mother said she thought he was 13 or 14 and that he told stories of being in the miner's fight at Blair Mountain in 1921. For those of you that don't know what the Battle of Blair Mountain is here is a You tube video with a bit of background. Both Uncle Sid and Uncle Otis were what my mother called, "staunch Union men".

I always think of Uncle Sid when I hear this song by Hazel Dickens.

Uncle Sidney died in 1944 at the age of 44 of a heart attack. Momma said that was one way of looking at it, but he had "miner's pneumonia" or Black Lung also. My mother said she remembered visiting their family in McDowell County and him coming home from work, getting into a coughing fit and not being able to breath just before he died.

Uncle Otis was much younger. He died in 1936 at the age of 23. He also started out in the mines at a young age but had got out of the mines underground to drive a coal truck. But not before he was struck with Black Lung. My mother was present when he died at my Great Grandparents, Stewart and Flora Mae Perdue Burress's house in Bluefield and gave an account of his death on some recordings I have of her telling the story. I will try to isolate it and make a video later to post here.

His death certificate called it "Labor pneumonia".

Black Lung is still a problem for anyone who mines or hauls coal today. Sad stories of men who have suffered with it. That stuff in your lungs will kill you and it will definitely mess up a washing machine when you clean their clothes.
Here is Hazel Dickens singing a song as a tribute to her brother who suffered and died with black lung disease.