Search this site powered by FreeFind

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell, GROWING UP IN COAL COUNTRY. NEW copy. Textbook hardcover. (Houghton Mifflin, 1996). Photographs, 128 pages.
~~~ Bartoletti uses oral history, archival documents, and an abundance of black-and-white photographs to make turn-of-the-century mining life a surprisingly compelling subject for today's young people. Zooming in on northeastern Pennsylvania in general, and the perspective of children in particular, she writes of the desperate working conditions, the deplorable squalor found in the "patch villages," and the ever-present dangers of the occupation. Stories of breaker-boy pranks and the roles of the animals at work bring some comic relief, but even they point out the enormous hardships suffered before there were effective unions and child-labor laws. The words and work of children are weighted equally with the efforts of the Molly McGuires, Mother Jones, and other adult players. Captioned, black-and-white photographs, with attributions, appear on almost every page, allowing the images to play a powerful role in the gritty story. The bibliography reveals the depth of Bartoletti's research. An introduction conveys her motivation (fascination with family stories), while a brief conclusion touches upon the region in the post-World War I era. For a first-rate, accessible study of a time and place that played an important role in American economic and social history, look no further


Dublin, Thomas, WHEN THE MINES CLOSED: Stories of Struggles in Hard Times. NEW copy, textbook PAPERBACK. (Cornell University Press, 1998). Photographs, 304 pages.
~~~ The anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania, five hundred square miles of rugged hills stretching between Tower City and Carbondale, harbored coal deposits that once heated virtually all the homes and businesses in Eastern cities. At its peak during World War I, the coal industry here employed 170,000 miners, and supported almost 1,000,000 people. Today, with coal workers numbering 1,500, only 5,000 people depend on the industry for their livelihood. Between these two points in time lies a story of industrial decline, of working people facing incremental and cataclysmic changes in their world. When the Mines Closed tells this story in the words of men and women who experienced these dramatic changes and in more than eighty photographs of these individuals, their families, and the larger community. ~~~ Award-winning historian Thomas Dublin interviewed a cross-section of residents and migrants from the region, who gave their own accounts of their work and family lives before and after the mines closed. Most of the narrators, six men and seven women, came of age during the Great Depression and entered area mines or, in the case of the women, garment factories, in their teens. They describe the difficult choices they faced, and the long-standing ethnic, working-class values and traditions they drew upon, when after World War II the mines began to shut down. Some left the region, others commuted to work at a distance, still others struggled to find employment locally. ~~~ The photographs taken by George Harvan, a lifelong resident of the area and the son of a Slovak-born coal miner, document residents' lives over the course of fifty years. Dublin's introductory essay offers a briefhistory of anthracite mining and the region and establishes a broader interpretive framework for the narratives and photographs.


Giesen, Carol, ABOVE THE SLATE: An Appalachian Love Story. NEW copy, trade PAPERBACK. (Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2002). 256 pages.
~~~ When Neva and Grady marry, she dreams of owning their own home, while he dreams of organizing his fellow coal miners to fight for their rights. Above the Slate follows the twists and turns of the couple's life together--their birthing and grieving, their hoping and hiding from the law. Throughout it all, Neva and Grady remain committed to different, often conficting dreams. ~~~ A down-to-earth account, Above the Slate is told in the pain and earthy voices of a husband and wife who struggle against the harsh realities of Appalachian coal country in the 1930s. Imprisonment and escape, the death of one child, the birth of three, and a tragic mine explosion give the story structure; an honest portrayal of family relationships gives it heart.


Pack, Clyde, MUDDY BRANCH: Memories of an Eastern Kentucky Coal Camp. NEW copy, trade PAPERBACK. (Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2002). 256 pages.
~~~ Muddy Branch is a memoir of Clyde Roy Pack’s growing-up years in Muddy Branch coal camp deep in Eastern Kentucky. It is the story of a boy, a place, and a time, offering a taste of time sweet as honey, when the term “bored” had to do with something a man did with an auger. ~~~ There is in much retrospective writing—particularly concerning Appalachia—a tendency to romanticize the rural setting of the past and our parents’ and grandparents’ struggles with same. Conversely, the other pitfall is to engage in the kind of deconstruction that always tempts us when we look at the past from the perspective of the present. Clyde Roy has done neither. Instead, he has simply set his own truth to paper as faithfully as memory can trace it. It rings true to the Appalachian -— every time. ~~~ When Clyde Roy Pack weaves his insightful and evocative tales of growing up in the coal camp known as Muddy Branch, he knows whereof he speaks. He spent his first eighteen years there and the spirit, feeling and atmosphere of that place in that time has clearly left its imprint. Here he has set to paper a coal camp story that creates a fresh picture of our place and our people -— folks who accepted hardship, believed in the Lord, and labored long so that their kids could walk an easier path.


Shogan, Robert, THE BATTLE OF BLAIR MOUNTAIN. NEW copy, hardcover with dust jacket. (Westview Press). 271 pages.
~~~ Shogan depicts the relatively unrecognized but highly dramatic confrontation culminating at Blair Mountain in West Virginia, between unionized mineworkers, mine owners, and the federal government in the largest armed uprising since the Civil War.


Vaughn, James, BANKMULES: The Story of Van Lear, A Kentucky Coal Town. NEW copy, hardcover with dust jacket. (Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2003). 256 pages.
~~~ In the summer of 1934, the town of Van Lear seemed an idyllic place to young James Vaughan and his buddies, even though it was also the time of the Great Depression. Here in this personal account, an older Vaughan shares his warm memories of growing up in Van Lear and recalls many incidents from the history of the town—a town created by the Consolidation Coal Company to serve its new mines along Millers Creek. ~~~ Drawing on his own recollections and on many interviews, Vaughan recreates Van Lear in its heyday from 1910 to 1940 when it was a prosperous community of 3,000 people—the largest in the county—and when the Bankmules athletic teams, so-called from the mules that hauled coal from the coal seams or “banks,” were the pride of the town. He tells of the games and amusements enjoyed with his boyhood buddies, of lessons and school, of his friends and family, of the dark day in 1935 when a mine explosion took the lives of his father and eight other miners. He describes the town itself—the company store and the club house, the different neighborhoods and hollers—and also the men who shaped the town—mine manager Jack Price who fostered the schools and the teams, Doctors Hall and Lyon who took care of the miners and their families, and the teachers and superintendents of the schools who provided a solid education for the children of Van Lear. Though many writers have criticized coal towns as depressing and poverty-stricken, for Vaughan and others, Van Lear was altogether different—a good place to live, a good place for children to grow up. ~~~ Sadly, with the depletion of the coal, the town declined, and, in the 1950s, Consolidation sold off all its properties and abandoned the town. In the latter part of the book, Vaughan describes the valiant efforts of a small group of individuals to preserve the heritage of Van Lear by the creation of a museum and a historical society, and the publication of a newsletter devoted to the town’s history. James Vaughan has written a memorable story of a town and a part of Kentucky history that is fast disappearing.


Wallace, Anthony FC, ST. CLAIR: A Nineteenth-Century Coal Town's Experience with a Disaster-Prone Industry. Textbook paperback. (Cornell University Press, 1987). 519 pages. (St. Clair is in Pennsylvania).
~~~ From the New York Times Book Review: 'Monumental... A book of grand scale and impressive accomplishment... Wallace has revised our image of 19th-century industrial development... Displaying his professional anthropologist's eye for telling detail, as well as the sort of prodigious research and sense of plot and character development more often found in the work of historians and novelists, (he) has demonstrated that the history of our smallest towns speaks to some of the largest questions of our past and present.'


Williams, Tennessee, CANDLES TO THE SUN: A Play in Ten Scenes. NEW copy, trade paperback. (New Directions, 2004). 128 pages.
~~~ The first full-length play by novice playwright Thomas Lanier Williams to be produced, Candles to the Sun was premiered by The Mummers, a semi-professional and socially aware theatre troupe in St. Louis on March 18, 1937, and received rave reviews in the local press. Set in the Red Hills coal mining section of Alabama and dealing with both the attempts of the miners to unionize and the bleak lives of their families, the play, according to St. Louis Star-Times critic Reed Hynds, is "an earnest and searching examination of a particular social reality set out in human and dramatic terms." ~~~ Working principally from a script supplied by Jane Garrett Carter (who played Star in the original production), Dan Isaac, as he did in his edition of another "early" Williams' play, Spring Storm, uses his directorial and scholarly skills to prepare a version as close as possible to the 1937 production while providing contemporary readers (or actors) with the necessary social, political and theatrical context to make the play accessible and relevant once more.


A ~ D

E ~ M

N ~ S

T ~ Z

Return to the
Main Page