Black History : The forgotten history of the US' African American coal towns


Well-Known Member
Apr 21, 2007

The story of West Virginia's past often goes something like this: in the late 1800s, blue-collar workers came from Wales, Eastern Europe and other far-flung corners of the world to mine coal that ultimately built the cities that fired America to global superpower status. But that story leaves out an important element: the vibrant and sometimes tragic experiences of the region's African American communities, which were integral to the industry and to a burgeoning Appalachian culture.

Fleeing white-led violence and racial segregation laws (known as Jim Crow laws) in Southern states after the end of the US Civil War and the abolition of slavery in 1865, African Americans streamed north into the coal fields of West Virginia in search of jobs and a modicum of security.

In the decades that followed, entire communities emerged in coal camps – and thrived, thanks to demand for the much sought-after fuel source. By 1930, around 80,000 African Americans were living in southern West Virginia, a figure that had doubled in just 20 years.

Now, one of the US' newest national parks, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, has put this area in the travel spotlight. And although most visitors are coming for the stunning canyons, white-water rapids and outdoor recreation, they also have an opportunity to learn about this area's lesser-known strand of history: the black communities that moved here to work in local mines and railways more than a century ago.


Well-Known Member
Feb 28, 2009
Artist Doris Fields, a blues singer who performs under the name Lady D, grew up in Kayford, one of the area's coal camps, in the 1960s. "I loved it," she said. "A creek ran behind our house and the railroad tracks were right in front of the house. My father worked just down the road. It was just a good way to grow up."

When I first lived in Atlanta back in the 80s, I lived by the Amtrak station. There was a train came through about 4 o'clock every morning. Drove me crazy. I finally got some earplugs from a friend who worked for the railroad and slept in them....I don't know how she stood it.

However, this news is just one of countless others that haven't been told about our contributions to communities all across this country, before and after slavery.

Thank you for sharing this.

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