“Blood on the Mountain”: coal mining, especially in West Virginia, did not make America “great” and gives us all bad karma

Name:  “Blood on the Mountain
Director, writer:  Mari-Lynn C. Evans, Jordan Freeman
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Landmark West End, DC, 2016/12/21
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Aborama, Virgil
Link:  official

On July 31, 1971, I was nearly arrested (it would have been the only time in my life) for trespassing on a strip-mine along W Va 93 between Mt. Storm and Davis.  Strip mining, and the idea of mountaintop removal, had already been growing by 1970.  Later, in May 1991, I would take the underground mine tour at Beckley W Va.

The film “Blood on the Mountain” (2016), directed by Mari-Lynn C. Evans and Jordan Freeman, provides a good 90-minute history of the coal industry in the United States, particularly West Virginia, since the late 19th Century.  In the early days (until the New Deal) coal companies built company towns in the mountain hollows and miners essentially worked as serfs in what practically amounted to feudalism. Early castastrophes included the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster  with many workers succumbing to silicosis.

Once miners were partly unionized, the usual labor struggles ensued, but mine disasters repeated. One of the very worst was the Buffalo Creak flood in 1972, when a cofferdam failed.

In time, underground mining jobs started to dwindle as strip-mining (with those “Big Muskie” draglines) increased.  The film shows the mountaintop removal at Kayford and Blair (where a child labor controversy had occurred in 1921 ).

Most of the families in this part of the country supported Trump, but it’s hard to believe that, even in the best days (maybe the 1960s), America was “great” in coal country.  The film covers scandal after scandal with government and company officials.  One of the most recent was the Elk River spill near Charleston, W Va in early 2014.

I drove through this countryside twice this year, after the massive floods in June.  Most of the people there seemed quite self-reliant, able to rebuilt their own homes with their own hands and tools, and really didn’t want a lot of outside help or visitors.

The film has some morality tests, like the idea that elites or progressives like trees, streams and mountains more than they like people, and that many coal miners feel that they have been made “extinct”.  There is also a claim that globalism means taking resources from one area and giving them to another and letting the original area be left for dead.  That reminds me of the whole strip mining reclamation issue (latest news).  There’s one shot, apparently from Kayford, of a blackened ridge that looks extraterrestrial (like in one of my dreams).

Add to all of this, is a scandal with pharmaceutical companies pushing opioid pills in West Virginia, most of all the town of Kermit, CNN video.  Make West Virginia great again, indeed.

Maybe Luke Andraka (Jack’s older brother) can help make Appalachia great again, with the science fair project he won at age 15, regarding acid drainage from mines, described here in the Baltimore Sun.  Look at his underground coal mine picture on Facebook, Oct. 19, 2015, here.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 8:15 PM EST)