Day 5: Cleveland, OH to Logan County, WV

We’re back on the road and heading to the heart of West Virginia’s southern coalfields. I’m hoping to talk to young coal miners about their lives and the issues they care about. On the way, we’re planning to stop at Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, a farm-to-table brewpub in southern Ohio that’s considered the best brewpub in the state.




The belief long persisted outside the State that West Virginia was a rough, untamed wilderness. The natural ruggedness of the terrain and the attendant circumstance that much of the region until recent years has been inaccessible to automobile traffic have lent credibility to this misconception. In addition, highly dramatized stories of pioneer days obscure the present. … In isolated instances the traveler meets, deep in the hills, picturesque individuals with the speech and social customs of the earliest Anglo Saxon colonists. … They add their diminishing quota to the State’s many contrasts, but are no longer typical of the whole.

West Virginia, A Guide To the Mountain State (WPA, 1941)

Coal is still very much king in southern West Virginia. The southern counties of Mingo, Logan, Wyoming, McDowell, Boone, and Raleigh all offer some of the most sought-after coal in the world. This area has seen its share of unrest and hard times: the results of which have produced no shortage of images that have been used to create and perpetuate a visual myth of Appalachia — from Li’l Abner to the Beverly Hillbillies.

John Campbell once wrote that more is known that isn’t so about this place and people than any other on the globe. I invite you to have a look for yourself.

Guide note: Roger May hails from Mingo County, West Virginia, and Pike County, Kentucky, state line, right in the heart of Hatfield and McCoy country. He’s been going back home to make photographs consistently for about seven years—embracing the raw beauty of the mountains while keeping at arm’s length the stereotypical images that have tried to define Appalachia for decades. Roger offers his voice to the greater conversation about Appalachia, a region as unique and diverse as they come. He is fascinated by issues of representation, place, and history and writes about these things on his fantastic blog,

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Roger May is a proud Appalachian and documentary photographer currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina, but born and raised in the Tug Valley region of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. He’s currently enrolled in the Certificate in Documentary Arts program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, where he’s also a part time instructor. Find him on Twitter at walkyourcamera and keep up with his writing and photography at

  I grew up poor.  In a poor community. At twenty-seven I still am still considered poor.  In a poor community. Of course, I should preface this by saying that this isn’t a cry for help, or fo…

This is a very thoughtful essay, by a young native of our region, about why he still lives here.  And it’s not because he has no choice.

Food Systems | Sustainable Williamson [VIDEO]

Check out a newly released video I produced for Sustainable Williamson above and learn about what they’re doing in their community to grow healthy foods through Community Gardens, Farmers Market, and an Orchard up-top a reclaimed mine site (pretty rad)!

Support their campaign on IndieGoGo to help create economic diversification and sustainable development in the heart of the Billion Dollar Coalfield in central Appalachia

Contribute Now -

Industry, Paternalism and Enterprise

'…there hasn't been a great block of enterprise culture…traditionally there has been a reliance on, you know, four major companies, in the Borough and everybody worked for Pilkingtons, aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces and whole families, again, we saw that with SmithKline Beecham, whole generations in there.' St. Helens Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.23 cited in Strangleman 1999.

Strangleman, Tim, et al. “Heritage work: Re-representing the work ethic in the coalfields.” (1999).

ENERGY OPTIMIZATION | The final video in the series on the Six Components of Sustainability.

I had a lot of fun producing this video, and learned a lot: how to install a solar system, what post-mine land use sites can be used for and why they’re important to economic diversification, and others including topics like Biomass, reforestation of strip mines, and more.

It’s been a honor to work with Sustainable Williamson and help produce media that shows other what they are doing and how others can replicate it. I’ve been consistently surprised and inspired by their work, and I encourage you to support their endeavors to make sustainability and economic diversification in Coal Country a reality.

Support their campaign with your donation here:

See more of the videos I’ve produced for Sustainable Williamson here:

Wise County Man

from Sawmill Boys, Neva Bryan, Brighid Editions, copyright 2010.

Wise County Man

Sleep in Sunday sunshine

and calico shadows.

Tomorrow you’ll

bear down on bitter asphalt

and haul another load.

Have your fun Friday:

rumble in parking lots, bars, and back roads,

but come home to me.

Wash away the black fuzz

of diesel and dust,

and we’ll fumble in this dimwitted light

’til our tarnished love sparkles in the dark.

Twine yourself around me:

we are tight as the laces of a steel-toed boot.

from Sawmill Boys, Neva Bryan, Brighid Editions, copyright 2010.

Joe Sacco and I spent two years writing “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We wrote the book out of the nation’s most impoverished sacrifice zones, places such as Indian reservations, abandoned manufacturing centers, the coalfields of southern West Virginia and the nation’s produce fields. Corporate capitalism holds total, unchallenged power in these sacrifice zones. The politicians, the judges, the press, even the boards of education bow before the dictates of corporate power. And in these sacrifice zones activists have learned something many Americans have yet to understand—corporations are willing to poison Earth and all of its inhabitants for profit. There are no limits. The collapse of the ecosystem in sacrifice zones brings with it despair, joblessness, high cancer rates, the loss of hope and increased state repression. Those trapped in these sacrifice zones often retreat into drugs and alcohol, the only way for many to blunt the pain. They believe they have no agency. And this misery and despair serve the ends of corporate power. As the environment devolves, the planet becomes one vast sacrifice zone. Joe and I wrote the book as a warning.

A teenage girl from the Hunter Valley coalfields was so desperate to be a part of Australia’s war effort in WWI that she cut her hair, dressed as a soldier and stowed away on a troopship.

Maud Butler was only 16 years old when she first tried to get to the front — and if it had not been for her boots she might have made it. 

The girl from Kurri Kurri, in rural New South Wales, climbed on board a troopship waiting at the Woolloomooloo docks in Sydney at night, disguised as a soldier, and was discovered two days later out at sea. 

[Read More]

this is fabulous

Found this on a walk in Burnley today. It says “A tribute to all mining comrades of the Burnley and Padiham coalfields”.


Born 1924. Salem, VA.

One of WV’s few traditional blues artists, Nat is a nationally recognized blues singer and guitarist who has lived in Princeton for nearly all of his life. Born in Salem, VA, his family moved to Wyoming County four years later, settling in Princeton in 1935. There, Nat was exposed to a wide range of musical styles, from big band jazz and popular music, to blues, polkas, and country music.

He began playing the guitar as a young man and performed in various string bands that played throughout the coalfields in the days before racial integration. For a time, he led a group called the Starlight Gospel Singers, based in Itmann, Wyoming County. Later, Nat concentrated on blues and swing music, often appearing with renowned fiddler Howard Armstrong. Howard and Nat traveled and performed extensively, including several European tours, where they appeared in Switzerland, Belgium, France, and East Germany.

In addition to his many musical talents, Nat is also a gifted artist and a commercial sign painter. Nat Reese received the Vandalia Award in 1995 and the John Henry Award in 1988.