The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

May 5, 2014

Final lecture in Coal Heritage Series Tuesday

Historic coal camps have long been considered a place where the operator had control over the residents. While many fond memories of good neighbors and strong families persist, most agree that the operator wielded a certain power.

However, the final lecture in the 2014 Coal Heritage Lecture Series will explore the culture of resistance in historic coal camps. Gordon Simmons, historian and Marshall University instructor, will give a lecture titled The Miner’s Freedom May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in room E 10.

The lecture, presented by Concord University Beckley and the Coal Heritage Highway Authority, is free and open to the public.

Simmons will discuss the idea that, before mechanization, there was a definite sense among coal miners that they could exert some independence and autonomy over the actual pace of work underground, despite the fact that the owners controlled the coal camps. His talk will be based on the book, “The Miners’ Freedom,” which explores this sense of independence.

This consciousness was eroded by mechanization, and the loss of this autonomy may have contributed to the drive to democratize the UMWA, as a way to regain some sense of self-determination.

This lecture will explore the relation between the work process and labor struggles.

Simmons has been active in labor organizations in West Virginia for a number of years. He has certificates in programs from the Institute of Labor Studies & Research, West Virginia AFL-CIO and the AFSCME Steward & Leadership Training. He has had articles and reviews published in Appalachian Heritage, ArtWorks, Charleston Gazette, Goldenseal, Graffiti, Ideas & Action, Labor History Journal, Labor Studies Journal, Traditions, UE News, West Virginia History, West Virginia Libraries, West Virginia Encyclopedia.

Simmons has been active in the West Virginia Labor History Association and currently serves as the president of that organization.

The lecture is the final presentation in the 2014 Coal Heritage Lecture Series.

The lecture series is a part of an academic class taught at Concord University Beckley by faculty member Karen Vuranch. The class, Coal Culture in West Virginia, explores the rich history of coal mining communities in the state and the history of the coal industry. As a part of the class, students participate in a project examining the 1920 census data from certain coal camps and research that specific town.

This year, student teams explored Tams in Raleigh County, Thurmond in Fayette County and Davy in McDowell County.

The Coal Heritage Public Lecture Series is presented by Concord University Beckley and the Coal Heritage Highway Authority. For more information, contact Concord University Beckley Center at 304-256-0270 or e-mail instructor Karen Vuranch at

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