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Online Exhibition

The Council of the Southern Mountains was an organization constantly changing. Only a few of the issues the Council was concerned about are included below in the summaries and photos. More information is available to the public in the Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives. Please refer to the online Guide to the Council of the Southern Mountains Records, 1970-1989, to assist in finding materials of interest to CSM's activities in the 1970s and 1980s. For the Council's earlier years, refer to the Guide to the Council of the Southern Mountains Records, 1912-1970, which is also available online.

Black Lung Kills
Black Lung March in Washington, D.C., near
Washington Monument. March 1981
Photo: Laura Batt
SAA 101, 242-30
Southern Appalachian Archives
Appalachia Welfare March on Washington
for Survival Against Unfulfilled Promises

Many CSM members were active in organizations like the Black Lung Association and state or county Welfare Rights Organizations. On November 6-10, 1971, members of Black Lung and Welfare Rights Organizations from Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia gathered together for the "Appalachia Welfare March on Washington for Survival Against Unfulfilled Promises." The march was to protest President Nixon's Family Assistance Plan, to clean up state welfare programs violating federal regulations, and to work for better black lung laws. Several people spoke with their Congressmen and Senators while there, expressing frustrations and needs for justice for coal miners, poor people, needed ambulance services, and better tests for black lung, among other concerns.

Buffalo Creek Disaster

Council's activities included assistance in reporting disasters and safety violations of coal companies. One of these was the Buffalo Creek Disaster, or as some referred to it, a massacre. It was certainly no "act of God," as some public and coal company officials claimed. The slag pile used as a dam broke and flooded the Buffalo Creek community and several towns further down the creek in Logan County, West Virginia, in February 1972. Over a thousand homes were destroyed by the flood waters, and left 84 dead. Four to five thousand persons were left homeless as a result of the disastrous flood. CSM staff reported on the disaster in Mountain Life & Work and assisted in investigating the cause of the flood.

Buffalo Creek
Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, after the Pittston slag dam broke. The Council was investigating other slag dams in an effort to prevent another such disaster.
Photo: Unknown
SAA 101, 242-1
Southern Appalachian Archives
CSM Moves to Clintwood
CSM Moves to Clintwood, Virginia, August 1972
Photo: Shearard
SAA 101, 237-17
Southern Appalachian Archives
CSM Moves to Clintwood, Virginia

After several new staff members joined CSM's programs and activities, the Council decided to move its headquarters from Berea to Clintwood, Virginia, during the summer of 1972, as an attempt to cut ties shared with Berea College almost since its founding. The new location placed the office in the middle of the central Appalachian coalfields of Dickenson County. The purpose of this move was to be in the midst of the issues CSM was concerned about, but membership found the new location to be less accessible than its previous location in Berea. The office opened on August 1, 1972 in Clintwood and remained there until 1989.

Mountain Life & Work

Through the use of Mountain Life & Work, the Council was able to reach out to the Appalachian region to let them know the shifting leadership of CSM, regional community group projects, and various struggles in the region. The magazine's mission had changed considerably since its start in 1925. ML&W offered news and feature articles on: "what workers have to say about their jobs, the struggles for a safe work place, fair wages and laws to protect them; land and mineral development in Appalachian coalfields and what people who live there are doing about it; how Appalachian communities are surviving the federal budget shifts while fighting back; the organizing victories of more than 100 community groups around the region, how they did it and what it means to the Appalachian people." In 1975, Mountain Life & Work celebrated its 50th year anniversary, and continued publication until 1989. This magazine was a source of information for those desiring to organize, strike, and fight back coal companies. Strikes like the one at Brookside were publicized and widely known because of ML&W.

Mountain Life and Work
Mountain Life & Work cover, November 1973
SAA 101, 234-16
Southern Appalachian Archives

Brookside Womens Club
"The Brookside Women's Club for 14 months helped hold the picket line in organizing Duke Power Company's Eastover Mine, at Brookside, Kentucky, District 19." Mountain Life & Work, October 1976.
Photo: Frank Blechman, Jr.
SAA 101, 241-25
Southern Appalachian Archives

Brookside Strike

The Brookside miners joined the UMWA in 1973, but Duke Power, the parent company of the Brookside mine, refused to accept a union contract. The miners went out on strike, and the picket line was going strong until the coal company got an injunction against the strikers. This injunction allowed only three men to picket each gate. This incident prompted local women to begin striking at Brookside. Women banded together in Harlan County to strike against Eastover's Brookside Mine and formed the Brookside Women's Club. An escalating fight began between the strikebreakers and the men and women on the picket line. Some men and women were arrested, along with their young children who were with them in the picket lines, and placed in the Harlan jail overnight. Finally, a Duke Power employee shot miner Lawrence Jones one night, resulting in his death. Fearing bad press, the coal company began negotiations with the miners. The miners finally received their union contract, but it was a hollow victory.

Scotia Mine Explosions

On March 9 and 11, 1976, two methane gas explosions occurred at the Scotia mine in Letcher County, Kentucky. This was the first major crises of that sort CSM's Commission for Mine Health and Safety handled. The disaster claimed the lives of 23 miners and 3 inspectors. With several of the most competent lawyers in the field, Thomas Galloway , Gerald Stern, and Davitt McAteer, CSM aided all the widows and families from the first explosion to sue Blue Diamond Coal Company in a combined law suit. Sally Ward Maggard, Cathy Stanley, Dan Hendrickson, and countless other staff members assisted the widows and families of the miners through organizing, press-screening, and collection of evidence. It was serious work that would continue for the next several years.

Scotia Mine
"Wreaths lined the entrance to Scotia Coal Co.'s No. 1 mine on June 21 as families protested a delay of 3 more months before bodies of 11 men will be recovered. Relatives had placed the flowers at the mine portal on Memorial Day." Mountain Life & Work, June 1976.
Photo: Cathy Stanley
MT 051 M928 v. 52
Southern Appalachian Archives
Dickenson Cooperative
Dickenson County Food Co-Op
Photo: Dan Hendrickson
SAA 101, 247-16
Southern Appalachian Archives
Citizens for Social and Economic Justice

Other work the Council delved into and helped financed, was the Community Unions program. This included numerous Citizens for Social and Economic Justice groups especially in southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky, which began organizing for economic development projects, such as small-scale farm and garden, solar greenhouse, and house coal projects. They helped families by providing paralegal help on citizens' rights issues and individuals' benefits and claims cases. It has also sponsored Sungro, a project to build community green houses that can provide vegetable seedlings and an additional source of income for members and co-ops. This resulted in feed stores and cooperatives like the ones in Dickenson and Buchanan counties. Community Unions are all controlled by low-income people from the local county, and all advocate for the needs and rights of low-income people. Some of the programs operated by community unions include food cooperatives, legal aid, restaurants, farm and garden projects, trading post, fuel and clothing assistance, coal mine, and tenants' rights.

Mine Health & Safety Programs

Since the start of the 1970s, CSM began working effectively toward safer coal mining in Appalachian coal mines. The Council was the first and only safety "representative of the miners" for non-union miners, a status gained for miners at specific, targeted underground mines in eastern Kentucky. The Council also was a leader in broadening the safety rights of miners after four CSM members were fired from two Pike county, Kentucky non-union coal mines which, after investigation, became precedent-setting "safety discrimination cases." Council staff testified and commented on the federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977, pointing out how lack of adequate training was linked to mine explosions. The MH&S Programs worked toward their goal of improving health and safety of miners by (1) giving support to the Black Lung Association, (2) organizing non-union miners around safety issues, (3) lobbying for better health and safety legislation, (4) filing law suits to bring about better enforcement of health and safety laws, (5) help training for safety, (6) publicizing health and safety problems, and (7) supporting United Mine Workers Association mine health and safety efforts.

Steve and Mary Ratliff
“Mine Safety and Health Program helped Steve Ratliff, pictured with his wife Mary, to win a settlement for back pay from Standard Sign and Signal Coal Company after he was fired for refusing to break Federal Mine Safety Law.” January 1977.
Photo: Cathy Stanley.
SAA 101, 242-8.
Southern Appalachian Archives
Testifying Against Strip Mining
Cathy Stanley, Tom Fitzgerald, and others testify against
strip mining at a Senate Hearing, August 1981.
Photo: Dan Hendrickson
SAA 101, 244-28
Southern Appalachian Archives
Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977

MH&S Programs also delved into legal matters, with the use of testimonies and statements given at hearings. Through "citizens' participation" strip-mine enforcement was specified and successfully proposed in CSM testimony in 1977 to both houses of Congress. The Council recommended the successful steps of enforcement from the 1969 Act be copied and the less successful steps be strengthened in the new legislation. Several proposed amendments were accepted in the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. In 1978, with collected evidence and photos, CSM staff helped close a MACO Coal Company owned strip mine along Neece Creek in Virginia. This was one of the first mines to be closed under the Act of 1977.

Coal Mine Enforcement Actions

Another victory for the Council was then they, as "citizens," filed and won a review of an inspector's inaction of enforcement at Highland Coal Company in 1979. It was their evidence, photos, inspections and arguments that won them a series of enforcement actions. The Council of the Southern Mountains' staff publicized Office of Surface Mining's lax enforcement and lack of inspections as mandated by law, through a dozen coalfield weekly publications, including Mountain Life & Work.

OSM Tour
Left to Right: Ed Grandis of Environmental Policy Institute, Pat Greene of Virginia Citizens for Better Reclamation, and Rick Cagan of Rural Virginia tour Office of Surface Mining, June 1980.
Photo: Dan Hendrickson
SAA 101, 244-29
Southern Appalachian Archives
Self Rescuer
Miner from Southeast Bellcraft Mine #8
with Oxygen Self-Rescuer, September 1980.
Photo: Cathy Stanley
SAA 101, 241-10
Southern Appalachian Archives
Oxygen Self-Rescuers

The Council's involvement in mine safety continued as the Mine Health and Safety Program taught about mine safety issues, including the use of the new oxygen self-rescuers and miners' safety rights to miners and other persons in the coal community. CSM also pushed for the requirement of oxygen self-rescuers (self-contained self-rescuers, or SCSR's) for all underground miners. After investigating several miner deaths by cause of suffocation, it was proven that with a SCSR a miner would have had a higher possibility of surviving.

Scotia Widows Win Suit Against Blue Diamond Coal Co.

Through investigation and determination, responsibility for safe mining practices was proven to extend beyond the corporate veil of complex corporate structures to parent corporations. In 1980, after four long years a multi-million dollar settlement awarded $5.9 million to the widows and families of miners who died in the March 1976 Scotia mine explosions. This was an unprecedented event, to have fifteen women band together to sue one of the largest coal companies for irresponsibility in mine health and safety, and proceed to win the lawsuit. Blue Diamond, the parent coal company of Scotia, was proven irresponsible. Scotia also pleaded guilty to charges that it failed to train each miner to use self-rescue equipment. Scotia also falsely reported that a mine inspector had recently checked the mine's ventilation system before the explosions.

Scotia Widows
"Four years after the disaster, nine widows attended the first hearing before federal Judge Bertelsman in March. Standing here on the courthouse steps in Lexington, Kentucky are, left to right: Attorney Ellen Silverman, Reda Turner Lawson, Jennifer Boggs, Debbie Turner Stidham, Libby Gibbs, Charlotte Widner Rhodes, Vickie Scott Caudill, Madonna Griffith, attorney Gerald Stern, Geraldine McKnight King, and Phyllis Peavy Gadsen."
Mountain Life & Work, September 1980.
Photo: Dan Hendrickson.
MT 051 M928 v.56
Southern Appalachian Archives

Adkins Mine Disaster
Bodies of miners being brought out of the mine; 8 dead. Adkins Mine Disaster, Topmost, KY. December 7-8, 1981.
Photo: Ken Palisin
SAA 101, 242-24
Southern Appalachian Archives
Topmost Mine Explosion

Another tragedy occurred, much like the one at Scotia, but this time the mine explosion took place on December 7, 1981, at the Adkins Coal Company owned #18 mine in Topmost, Kentucky. The explosion took the lives of eight miners. The Council staff used their multi-strategy organizing efforts for the widows and families of these victims. The Council worked close with the families to push investigations and hearings to prove the patterns of illegal mining practices which caused the explosion. The resulting investigation found that the explosion was caused by coal dust in the air that was set off by blasting in the area, which violated safety regulations.

Citizens Coal Company

Further endeavors in the mine health and safety programs included the Citizens Coal Company was organized in 1981 as a community-owned coal mine with the purpose to provide reasonably priced house coal for low-income families. This was an attempt to run a model mine for health and safety. Unfortunately, before the coal mine could ever attempt to prove its purpose, the mining equipment was stolen. The coal mine had a poor start, being in a non-union county and without 100% approval from the CSM Board members before the venture started. This led to tension between staff members about the project, and the funds lost from the stolen equipment began to push the Council into debt.

Strip mining
Kentucky Strip Mine, Knott County, Winter 1976
Photo: Alida Herrick
SAA 101, 244-10.
Southern Appalachian Archives
Slag heap
Slag heap, Minden, West Virginia, Spring 1974.
Photo: Jim Fleischmann.
SAA 101, 245-9.
Southern Appalachian Archives
Coal Company Monitoring Project

The Council continued to keep a watch on strip mines and make sure they were complying with Federal regulations. If they did not, CSM members would file citizens' complaints to bring legal actions down on the offending coal mine. They even, on occasions, would accompany the inspectors of the mines on their rounds. After a several-year effort to improve safety management of Blue Diamond Coal Company, CSM won a settlement in a precedent-setting stockholders' suit, as part of the Coal Company Monitoring Project. Though, before the victory, staff was forced to turn over the thousands of pages and files about their mine monitoring operations.

CSM Appalachian Book and Record Shop

The Council of the Southern Mountains Bookstore, also referred to as the Appalachian Book and Record Shop, was an integral and important part of the Council's mission. The store's aim was to provide information to those who wished to be more knowledgeable about the Appalachian region, especially about social and cultural life in the mountains. Two priorities of the bookstore was to serve its customers honestly and dependably by recommending the Council's other programs and to encourage an awareness of the positive heritage of the region by demonstrating the common struggles of the past to the present ones.

CSM Bookstore
CSM Appalachian Bookstore
Photo: Unknown
SAA 101, 234-5
Southern Appalachian Archives
Mobile Bookstore
Almetor King and a young reader in the Mobile
Bookstore at CSM Annual Conference, August 1980.
Photo: Sally Ward Maggard
SAA 101, 235-18
Southern Appalachian Archives
CSM Appalachian Mobile Bookstore

A Mobile Bookstore was also part of the program, bringing these valuable resources right into the places where the people of the region gather. The book selection fought against the hillbilly stereotype, and encouraged reading among the Appalachian rural people. Funds for the nonprofit mobile bookstore were dependent upon National Endowment for the Humanities grants each year, with which not only afforded the extensive selection of Appalachian regional books, but also a number of fairs. The mobile bookstore usually worked in each county on a two-week cycle. Appalachian authors, musicians, local activists and craftspeople all were a large part of these fairs, to encourage pride in Appalachian culture, history, tradition, life, and work.


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