Lump of coal outside my parent's house
Lump of coal outside my parent's house

All of my great grandfathers were coal miners. They immigrated to Pennsylvania from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. They worked for big mining companies and one actually lived in a company town. Their sons, my grandfathers, each ran their own mine. My dad’s father got Black Lung, stopped mining, and started receiving disability after the United Mine Workers advocated for it the late 1960’s. He spent his new time helping Black Lung widows, who were mostly immigrants, access the same benefits.  My parents were not miners, but coal was central to their lives.  Black lung took the life of my mom's father when she was and her mother become one of the widows.  My dad witnessed the slow destruction of his hometown, Centralia, when an underground mine fire started in 1962.  Aside from the Ukrainian Catholic Church on a hill away from the fire where my parents married and I attended camp in my youth, Centralia is empty with a faint smell of sulfur. When I was little, we used to search for fern and seashell fossils on the mounds of earth extracted from the mines. The experiences of my grandfathers feels just as distant, yet I am aware that my privileges are not shared by all and that people subjecting themselves to enormous risks to make a living and keep our society going is not a thing of the past.  And the effects of burning coal and other fossil fuels may only be getting started. Remembering my family’s past makes me work towards a less exploitative future.   

Place(s): Centralia, PA
Year: 1910

– Julia M

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more