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The Little Known Story Of African-Americans In West Virginia’s Mines



June 22, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - African-Americans have worked in West Virginia's mines maybe as long as the coal mines have been here, but their stories have often been hidden underground. Now, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster is bringing to light their little-known history. Two of the 29 men who died at the Upper Big Branch mine at Montcoal in April were black.

Diana Zigler has worked nearly thirty years at a Pineville mine, driving a shuttle car before being sidelined by an injury. She says in 1980 she was a single mother from a mining family, and thought the job was such a blessing that she's happy to see her daughter go to work at the same mine.

"My daughter, she has a son and I raised her and her brother on the mining job. So she has a son, I let her have the same opportunity that I did."

Zigler is a member of the United Mine Workers of America, a union that was integrated from the day it was founded in 1890.

She says her father and brothers were known as good workers, and she had few problems in the mine when people realized she could do her job. And she says she went out of her way avoid problems.

"That's my motto: don't start nothing, it won't be nothing."

Zigler says sometimes being a woman was more of an issue, but again, she was accepted as soon as the other miners realized she could pull her weight. And she says there's a good deal of support and solidarity among women in the mines.

"With the white women and the African-American women, we were a family. We were there for each other. Cry on each other's shoulders when things wasn't right. When one hurt, all of us hurt."

An event on July 11 at Tamarack in Beckley will commemorate the "Soul of Coal," including Roosevelt Lynch and Joel Price, who died at Montcoal.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV