Recognizing the Contributions of America’s Black Coal Miners


According to the National Park Service, between 1870 and 1930, hundreds of thousands of white people, African Americans, and European immigrants came to West Virginia to work in the coal mines. For Black coal miners, this backbreaking work was an opportunity to escape the Jim Crow South and build a better life for themselves and their families. By 1909, African Americans made up over 26% of West Virginia mine workers, yet their contributions to mining are largely forgotten.

While segregation and institutionalized racism were still prevalent in West Virginia, as Expatalatchians explained, the state government was not as harsh in handing down de jure discrimination, though the unparalleled control that coal companies had over the miners’ lives worsened the conditions of working-class Black miners.

Why This Matters: As Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, explained, as we work toward a just transition for American workers, we cannot forget the sacrifices, struggles and fight for justice that Black miners navigated. Miners helped form the American economy in a significant way, but now as we work to develop the energy of the future we cannot leave anyone behind and must ensure that those previously unseen are called to help shape this future.

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