Driving down to Pine Mountain State Park last Friday, I looked around for the first time. I’d been on this road for years to visit my mother’s family in Middleboro but it was just a blur of green kudzu. I never considered just what this area means to my mother and the state of Kentucky.
Driving to Lynch to take Mine Portal 31 Exhibition and the Coal Museum in Lynch and Benham, I asked her what living here was like:
“I felt hemmed in because of the mountains and we had no car so we couldn’t get out. I was very poor and very aware of it. I was content though, because I had friends and a teacher who helped me get into college at Berea.” Education was her way out of the mountains and onto a better life.
Lynch and Portal 31 Mine Exhibit sits on the side of Black Mountain, with mom’s camp, Black Star, sitting on the west side of the mountain. Black Star sat in darkness until late morning and with her younger brother Jerry, she walked to the school provided by Black Star Coal Company in this darkness.
According to Colon C. Byrd of NPR, “Black Star Coal Company established and constructed a model community” however, the underground miners did not have bathrooms inside their homes. Black Star community had a commissary that had “a little bit of everything” according to Mother, “post office, groceries, butcher, barber shop, doctor’s office, restaurant, all housed in one big building.” They went to Pineville when the commissary didn’t have what they needed but not often because the paved roads didn’t come into her holler.
When I asked her what coal means to her, she said life. And death. Black Star Coal Company gave her the life she knew in Black Star and the education that enabled her to go to Berea College. Death because Black Lung killed her father.