When I told the librarian I wanted to see a video on coal mining, she handed me "Harlan County." I looked at the date - which indicated that the coal miners' strike featured in the movie took place in the early 1970s and I handed it back to her saying, "No, I'm interested in something with more history in it."
A few days later, I felt impelled to return to the library and get this VHS. I sat down to watch it one morning and could not turn it off. It's compelling, intriguing, educational and emotional. I cried several times, watching the struggle and learning more and more about a coal miner's life.
For the last few months, I've been doing research (in preparation for a book on Sears Homes) about Standard Oil's coal mines in Macoupin County, Illinois in the 1920s. "Harlan County" showed archival footage and presented information that showed what a miner's life looked like - through the ages. Duke Power's coal mines in Harlan County, Kentucky were so backwards and Standard Oil's coal mines in Macoupin County, Illinois were so progressive, that I learned more than I ever expected about early 1900s mining techniques.
The story about the man and the mules is something I'll never ever forget. Or the miner's conversation with the New York policeman. Thank God for the director Ms. Koppel, who was inspired to create this documentary! And for her having the wisdom and foresight to record these old miners' reminiscences of life in the coal mines in the early years of the 20th Century.
Suddenly, all the puzzle pieces from my months of book reading and research came together when I saw these old films and heard the miners talk.
I'll be watching it again and again - with my family, too. And I hope every person who uses electricity in this country will watch it, too.
An interesting aside - in the 1920s in Macoupin County, Illinois, one coal miner died (on average) for every 279,000 tons of coal that was mined. Between 1900-1969, 100,000 miners died in this country. Standard Oil's mines (operated from 1918-1925) in Macoupin County may have been the safest mines in the country, but several men died in those mines, too.
In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana built 192 Sears Modern Homes for their (mostly immigrant) miners in Macoupin County. (The term "Modern Homes" simply meant that the houses had kitchens, bathrooms, running water, central heat and electricity.)
In 1973, Duke Power's miners in Harlan County were still living in shacks with no running water.