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OverviewEdit

On November 20th, 1968, a disaster occurred that took the media by storm and changed mining laws for the better.   At 5:30am, an explosion occurred at Consol No. 9 coal mine in Farmington, West Virginia.  99 miners were inside when the explosion shook the town but only 21 miners were able to escape.  Rescuers tried to save the 78 miners still inside but the fires got so out of control they were forced to seal the mine on November 30th, 1968 [12].  Hope was lost for these miners to come out alive when the air was tested and deemed unable to sustain human life. In 1969, the mine was finally reopened and the search for the bodies continued.  For 9 years, the search continued, with 78 bodies being recovered throughout this 

Farminton 1

A photo of The Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968

process.  However, 19 bodies were never found and this mine became their grave. [14] The lack of ventilation, lack of methane gas testing, the disabling of a ventilation and safety alarm fan were very possible factors into what caused this historic explosion but the true cause was never determined.[15]  The Farmington Mine Disaster was able to bring about more major changes in legislature as compared to other disasters due to the extensive amount of media coverage and the amount of evidence able to be uncovered exposing the horrific conditions of the mines.

BackgroundEdit

Consol No. 9 Coal MineEdit

The Consol No. 9 coal mine was opened in 1909 by the Jamison Coal and Coke Company but was taken over in 1934 by Mountaineer Coal Company, subdivision of Consolidation Coal Company.  At the time of the disaster, Consolidation Coal Company was operating 56 mines with over 20,000 employees under it's control. In the history of this mine, there were three explosions that occured.  The first was on November 24th, 1954, where an explosion occurred in this Consol No. 9 mine that killed 16 miners.  The mine was only temporarily shut down to fix repairs and then was reopened without question [4].  Then on April 30th, 1965, another explosion occurred in this same consol due to a gas explosion in one shaft.  This disaster resulted in the death of 4 people and the closing of the mine for nine days for repairs.  The third and final explosion was The Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968 which took the lives of 78 miners and finally resulted in the permanent closing of this mine.  In it's history, Jamison Coal and Coke Company had to deal with three mine disasters, in total resulting in the death of 45 people.  Mountaineer Coal Company had two mine disasters resulting in the deaths of 82 people [4].

The Federal Government of 1968Edit

In 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson was in the last year of his presidency which was from 1963 to 1969. His presidency was characterized by his "War on Povery."[1]  However, Johnson's term ended on January 20, 1969, three months after The Farmington Mine Disaster. He was then succeeded by Richard Nixon.  Nixon was left to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.  Nixon was a Republican and therefore had different views of workers in America than the Democratic Johnson.  

United Mine Workers Union

The United Mine Workers Union was an international labor union formed in 1890 by the  National Progressive Union and the Knights of Labor.  In the 1960s, this union was in chaos [4].  In 1963, Tony Boyle was elected as leader of this union but was then criticized by members of the union for inadequate help to the miners in need and lack of help in the Farmington MIne Disaster. [18] Hatred reigned on Boyle as the media portrayed him as a bad guy, which he was.  In one interview Boyle said "Consol Energy is one of the best companies to work with as far as cooperation and safety are concerned"[17] indicating his pro-industry bias.  Boyle failed to mention that this company had one of the worst safety records of the era. One widow in response to this said in an interview "I hated him right then.  I couldn't believe someone could say that right there in front of the mine where all our husbands were buried alive."[17] In 1969, the dissidents of Boyle tried to get Joseph Yablonksi elected but this effort failed.  A few weeks after this failed election, Yablonksi was murdered by an unknown suspect.  In 1972, Boyle was convicted of providing union funds illegally to politicians.  The Farmington Mine Disaster could not have come at a more worse time in this union chaos.  Thankfully, the widows were able to handle the disaster in a more effective way than the unions.

Black Lung DiseaseEdit

Lungs

This is a comparison of different lungs, the lungs on the far left depict a miner with black lung disease

Black lung disease is a disease caused by prolonged breathing of coal dust.  The lungs will blacken, looking similar to the lungs of cigarrette smokers.  Although black lung disease is preventable, it also has a high death toll. More than 76,000 miners died from black lung between 1968 and 2010.  In 1969, a year after the events that occurred at Farmington and a protest occurred by 40,000 miners against black lung disease, this disease was branded as an occupational disease and there were efforts to prevent more unnecessary deaths from occurring.[19] Many people saw it that if a miner did not die an early death from a mining disaster, he would die because of black lung disease.  It was just an unsafe job in general and actions needed to be taken to make it safer.  The rate of deaths are decreasing as more legislation is being put into place but still miners are dying unnecessarily.

The Farmington Mine Disaster

CausesEdit

There was never deemed a true cause for why this mine disaster occurred due to the fact that the mine became unable to sustain human life and no investigators were allowed in aft er the disaster occurred.  There was a wide variety of speculation of what caused this disaster but no one ever knew the true cause.  However, in November of 2014 a lawsuit against the Consolidation Coal Company was issued indicating that  the true cause of the mine disaster was covered up by this company.  A U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration report that stated that there was inadequate overall ventillation of the mine, a buildup of methane gas in the mine, and  ventilation-fan monitoring and power cutoff systems were not working.  This report was issued two days before the explosion but was covered up by the company.  The company paid less compensation to the families due to not having a cause that would blame the company but now that this report states that this disaster was the fault of the comapany, they are expected to pay much more compensation (around $110,000 more per miner). [15]

Another cause would be the failure of the federal government and the unions to focus on the health of the miners.  The goal of the unions was to protect the jobs of the miners and the Bureau of Mines wanted to protect the mining economy but no ones goal was to protect the health of the miners.  This topic will be discussed more in the Primary Source Analysis section in this wiki.  

Widows' Mine Disaster CommitteeEdit

The widows of the Farmington Mine disaster had a lot to deal with in regards to funeral arrangements, relief funds, and newspaper interviews.  A week after the explosion, the women decided to make a committee in order to decide how to distribute the $200,000 in relief funds.  Some wanted the money immediately while others wanted to put the money into the trust funds of the 121 children who were left fatherless.  [9] This committee became a center for debate amongst the women until this issue was dealt with.  Once money issues and funeral arrangements were settled, the widow’s turned their attention to fighting the government through protests for improved mining regulations.  They were able to reach through to the media’s audience through their sad and relatable stories and inspirational speeches.

Widows were the most significant influences for change, they were the ones who felt the most effects from these mine disasters and could communicate their emotions the best to the public.  Widows became leaders of protests and directly challenged the government, even the president at the time [7].  One widow, Sara Kaznoski, in December of 1969 began a nationwide coal strike because President Nixon would not sign the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act [16].  There was only 15 days worth of coal supply above ground before the nation would run out because miners would not be producing any.  By going to the media and expressing her mine safety concerns and joining forces with unions, Kaznoski was able to make this a nationwide movement. This forced President Nixon to sign this piece of legislation in order to prevent a national mining crisis.

MediaEdit

In this time period of 1968, the media was developing.  More people had televisiion in their homes and were listening or watching news broadcasts.  When the widows went to the news and expressed their sentiments, the viewers could feel the sentiments expressed by thema and wanted to help cause change.  The use of the media is how many protests were started.  The upper and lower class were both influenced by the media to cause change in the federal government and were 

Farmington WV Coal Mine No04:55

Farmington WV Coal Mine No. 9 Disaster 1968

This is an NBC broadcast from November 29th 1968 describing some reactions by miners of the disaster. It's goal is to encourage miners to go back into the mines, "They are as safe as airplanes."

convinced things needed to be changed in the working world.  While some used the media to convince the public that mining was still safe and that miners loved thier jobs like this NBC broadcastmany television statments sided with the widows and lobbied for change [3].  The problem with the media was that in this time period some stations were very bias.  You had some that sided with the industry while others that went full force in proving why mining was dangerous and convincing you why mining was one of the worst jobs in the world [11].  The graves of the miners could be seen by people not only in West Virginia but across the nation.  The grief of the widows could be felt by upper class New Yorkers.  Many people already resented the Johnson administration and used this Farmington Mine Disaster to finally be able to make a change in government and it's preference towards buisnesses instead of the health of workers.   The benefit of this disaster and why it was so effective was that the media was able to apply this disaster to not only mine workers but to all workers in general who were under harmful conditions.

ProtestsEdit

As seen in the Background section, the miner's union (United Mine Workers Union of America) was declining in the 1960's.  Due to this widows became the sole source of bringing about change in this time period.  One protest, called the Widow's Walk, became a tradition for West Virginia miners everywhere.  Widow's would walk from Charleston, West Virginia to Washington D.C. and protests in major towns or cities along the way, lobbying for change.  Each year, beginning in the 1940's, widows would do this march to spread the word about the cruelties that were occurring in the mining world.[17]  The year of The Farmington Mine Disaster was one of their largest and most influential walks because it was televised.  With enough media attention, the women were able to give a testimony before Congress to secure the passafe of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969.

A Narrative of the FloodEdit

Here is a letter written by a women living in Farmington, West Virginia in 1968 to her mother living out of town.

Mother,

I write to update you on what has been going on in my life, I am sorry I have not written to you sooner but I have been so busy lately.  If you have turned on the news recently, you should have heard about the horific event that occurred in my place of residence, Farmington, West Virginia.  Oh mother, that day was a day I will never forget.  It all started at around 5 a.m.  The children and I were all sound asleep when we thought we felt an earthquake.  We were awoken by a shake and a loud boom.  The children stayed in the house while I went outside to investigate.  The neighbors were speculating what could've happened but we all knew deep down that something had happened at the minee, although we were all praying for it to just be an earthquake.

No one knew how many men were down there but we all raced to the site of the mine to get some answers.  The wives of the miners and their children were all there.  Farmington is a small town so I knew all the women by name and knew their entire family.  I tried to console the women but I bet you can already tell that my efforts failed.  We hoped and prayed that these men would come out alive.  A light at the end of a cold, dark tunnel appeared when three men first appeared, escaping from the depths of the mine.  A shimmer in each of the miners wives appeared but it was not long lasting.  21 of the miners ended up being saved but 78 were gone forever.  These are the moments mother when I am thankful that I am divorced.  I was able to choose not to be with my husband and save myself the heartbreak that these widows' are going through.  I only hope that I will never have to send my children down to these mines.

Right now, I am very busy working with the widows' as well as other members of the town to use this disaster to create change in the mining world.  These men should not have died, and we are here to avenge their death.  One things for sure, the dedication of these widows' and the use of the media will surely bring about change in not only Farmington but in the nation!  Even the president will see our efforts mother!  I truly believe in these women and this town to bring about the best change possible for future miners.

Love,

Meredith

Primary SourcesEdit

"Coal Miners' Revolt" Edit

 The primary source entitled “Coal Miners’ Revolt” published in The New York Times in February of 1969 argues that the federal governments programs are not benefitting America and are rather just hurting the people, especially in the case of the miners.  The audience intended for this article was

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.58.57 PM

"Coal Miners' Revolt"published in the New York Times on February 25, 1969

 the wealthier half of New York.  Although this explained the injustices the miners were facing, it was not meant to be read by the miners but rather the upper class.  These upper class people have more influence on the federal government and are therefore targeted by the author in order to bring about change in the federal government.  In this article, the Johnson administration is criticized for its programs.  The programs are hurting most of America rather than helping it and the failing programs to help the miners are used as an example to show the government injustices occurring.

Sectors of government such as the Department of Labor, The United Mine Workers (UMW) Union, and the Bureau of Mines were brought up in this article in order to show how each was failing the American citizens and therefore how each led to the Farmington Mine disaster.  The flaws of specific government workers were also mentioned such as Kenneth Hechler, Willard W. Wirtz, and Secretary Shultz to point out the flaws of the government in general.  The Department of Labor let the miners down by not creating better working conditions for the miners.  The UMW let them down by protecting jobs rather than trying to protect safety.  The Bureau of Mines also let them down by having a pro-industry bias and not remembering that the miners are people too and deserve quality health conditions.  [6] All of these examples provided by this New York Times article show that the federal government under the Johnson administration was chaotic and falling apart and that there needed to be a change.  The government was letting the people down and if the upper or lower class did not do something about this soon, a disaster similar to the Farmington Mine disaster would occur again.

 At the end of the article the author states “It is good news that Secretary of the Interior Hickel is moving away from his original intention to fire the dynamic Mr. O’Leary and replace him with a traditionalist.” [6]This suggests that the author believes that change in government is what is best for America.  He ends with this suggestion so that the influential people reading will want change in government and will bring about this change.  They needed to recognize the failures of the Johnson Administration and see that the federal government caused the deaths of 78 people.  The miners were being defeated by the federal government and the big businesses that controlled them and not even unions would help them.  The only way to prevent more lives from being unnecessarily taken and the defeats of the miners to not be “written in blood” anymore would be to change the federal government so that new programs to help workers would be put into place.  The Johnson Administration was a failure and soon the upper and lower class would realize this and cause change such as new programs coming into place such as The Coal Mine Safety and Health Act.

"West Virginia Mine Disaster" SongEdit

This song was written by a Jean Ritchie, a miner's wife and soon to be widow, in 1968.  She lived in West Virginia where many mine disasters happened.  She knew the dangers of the working as a miner but it was the only option her husband had working in a miners town.  This song describes what it was like to live in a mining town, taking you through the experience of finding out your husband has died from a mine disaster. [20]  

West Virginia Mining Disaster by Jean Ritchie04:00

West Virginia Mining Disaster by Jean Ritchie

The song "West Virginia Mining Disaster" by Jean Ritchie written in 1968

The mood of this song is very somber.  At no point is death mentioned but you can feel by the mood that it has happened.  The women's mind is wandering, thinking about the effects of this disaster on the people of the town and her children.  Thoughts are racing through her mind.  How will she tell her children the news?  When will she tell them? How many people died in this disaster?  She is sad and confused, representing all of the widow's who lost loved ones in mining disasters or any disaster in general.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.04.31 PM

West Virginia Mine Disaster song written in 1968 by Jean Ritchie

I find that the somber reaction in this song by a widow affected by a mining disaster shows how the Widows' Mine Disaster Committee was so effective.  They all came together and shared their grief, forming strong bonds and unified interests.  Together they were able to turn their grief and frustration to protests and efforts to change the way the federal government was run.  Another concern they had was the idea that not only would they lose their husbands to mining disasters but also their sons as expressed in the verse "If I had the money to do more than just feed them I'd give them good learning, the best could be found.  So when they growed up they'd be checkers and weighers and not spend their whole life in the dark underground."[20]  The families of miners were very poor as miners did not make enough even though they went through so much day-to-day hazard.  All together, this song portrays how a miners wife feels while watching her husband leave for work every single day and then describes the day where she will never get to see him again.  The song portrays just how dangerous of a job mining is. 

Legacy Edit

Coal Mine Health And Safety Act of 1969Edit

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was a direct result of the Farmington Mine Disaster itself and it's aftermath.  As widows protested and as the media enlarged the issue, the federal government became aware that changes needed to occur.  This act set stricter safety and health standards in mines and also required two inspections per year of above ground mines or four inspections per year of underground mines.  The act also mad it so that severe violations of health code would result in criminal punishment and other violations would cost monetary value.  Miners who developed black lung disease would also recieve compensation.  [2] To oversee that this act would be follow, the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) was created. 

Graph

A graph produced by the CDC showing the amount of mine disasters from the 1900's to 2010.

Thanks to the enforcement of this act and lessons learned by the federal government from the Farmington Mine Disaster,  the rate of mine disaster occurrence in America has reduced significantly as shown in the this cdc graph.  The Farmington Mine Disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise for miners across the nation as new health and safety laws were implemented and they finally made progress in achieving a safer work environment. [1]

See AlsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Miller Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://millercenter.org/president/lbjohnson/essays/biography/9
  2. Boyer, Raymond. "Coal Mine Disasters: Frequency by Month." Science 144.3625 (1964): 1447-449. 19 June 1964. Web.
  3. Breslin, John A. One Hundred Years of Federal Mining Safety and Health ResearchPittsburgh, PA: Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, 2010. Print.
  4. By, Michael K. "Angry Look at Mines." The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959- 1973)</u> Oct 18 1973: 2.<u> ProQuest</u>. 16 Sep. 2014
  5. Carlton, F. (1920). The History and Problems of Organized Labor. Boston: D.C Heath&Company.
  6. "Coal Miners' Revolt." <u style="font-style:inherit;text-indent:0.5in;color:rgb(59,59,59);font-family:'TimesNewRoman';">New York Times (1923-Current file) Feb 25 1969: 42. ProQuest10 Sep. 2014 . </u>
  7.  "Farmington Mine Disaster." Farmington Mine Disaster. United States Mine Rescue Association. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/farmington.htm>.
  8. Franklin, Ben A. Special to The New,York Times. "Agony Persists in Mining Town 2 Years After Disaster." <u style="font-style:inherit;color:rgb(59,59,59);font-family:'TimesNewRoman';">New York Times (1923-Current file) Nov 21 1970: 16. ProQuest. 10 Sep. 2014  </u>
  9. Mine Fund Distribution Meeting Set. (1969, January 11). The Weirton Daily Times, p. 9. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/49088346/
  10. Miners' deaths fall to record low. 2010. New York Times (1923-Current file), Jan 03,2010. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1467489250?accountid=14678 (accessed October 3, 2014).
  11. Moore, Catherine. "Let's Show Them What A Fight We Can Give Them": The Black Lung Movement In West Virginia." Goldenseal 32.2 (2006): 6-13. America: History & Life. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.
  12. "Son, Don't Be a Miner." New York Times 15 Jan. 2006: WK11(L). U.S. History in 'Context. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
  13. Special to The New,York Times. 1980. Bodies of west virginia miners found. New York 'Times (1923-Current file), Nov 09, 1980. http://search.proquest.com/docview/121423155?accountid=14678 (accessed September 16, 2014).
  14. Stewart, Bonnie E. No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia UP, 2011. Print.
  15. Stewart, Bonnie, and Scott Finn. "Memo Suggests Cause Of 1968 Mine Deaths." NPR. 18 Nov. 2008. Web. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97115205>
  16. Widow calls for coal strike over mine bill. 1969. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)Dec 28, 1969. http://search.proquest.com/docview/156391737?accountid=14678 (accessed September 12, 2014
  17. Widows' walk rooted in decades of struggle by coal miners. (2002, April 8). Retrieved from http://www.themilitant.com/2002/6614/661404.html
  18. United Mine Workers of America. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/business/united-mine-workers-america.html
  19. Jamieson, D. (2014, September 15). Black Lung Disease Rates Skyrocket To Highest Levels Since 1970s. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/15/black-lung-disease-levels-letter_n_5824470.html
  20. Ritchie, J. (1971, January 1). West Virginia Mine Disaster Song. Retrieved from http://www.old97wrecords.com/elizabeth-laprelle/songs/wva-mine-disaster.htm


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