Art Sherwood says sacrificing school children to protect weapons of war is outrageous; also slams gun lobby and idea of arming teachers
LENOIR, N.C. – Art Sherwood, the Democratic candidate for North Carolina State Senate District 46, today expressed outrage that school children are being murdered at astounding rates while the gun lobby and their Republican allies continue to insist on allowing civilians access to weapons of war.
Sherwood said, “While I commend school systems, law enforcement, mental health experts and social workers for working together to protect our children, the truth is – as evidenced by the relentless, ongoing school shootings – that these efforts are not enough.”
Sherwood continued, “Students across the nation have been demanding more action to protect them from mass murder. To turn a deaf ear to them, to continue to ignore the abhorrent and uncivilized killings made all too easy by lax gun laws is to abdicate our moral responsibility to ensure that, first and foremost, our schools are safe.”
Sherwood noted, “One of the primary reasons I decided to run for the state senate was to protect North Carolina’s public schools. First, however, we must sadly start with this most distressing matter of protecting the lives of our students and public school personnel from mass murder!”
In response to the epidemic of school and other domestic terrorist assaults such as those in Florida and Nevada, Sherwood said, “I support a ban on assault rifles and placing strict limits on gun shows. I also encourage schools and school systems to establish Human Relations Councils that include students that are empowered to address bullying, bigotry and other root causes of violence. Educational, mental health, law enforcement and other professionals can also work closely together to mitigate threats. Relying upon Active Shooter exercises – while appropriate preparedness – still signals that we are not tackling the essential questions. For instance, are we really trying to figure out what is making our young people so violent?”
… we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians? – Art Sherwood
He continued, “Even more importantly, we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians?
Sherwood also addressed the suggestion that teachers be armed, an idea advocated recently by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos said “There is a sense of urgency needed.” Sherwood countered, “Urgency is needed; it has been since at least Columbine! However, what is urgent is what the Republicans and gun lobby opposes – reasonable restrictions on guns. Arming teachers is reactionary. Teachers are not trained how to use firearms. They should be provided with safe schools so that they can do what they are trained to do – teach our children.”
He concluded, “Every time I see, hear or read of another school shooting, I have to ask, ‘How could anyone think owning an assault rifle is more important than a single child’s life?’”
Senate District 46 includes Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties.
To contact the campaign, call or email:
Michael Barrick, Campaign / Communications Director*
Citizens for Art
DISCLOSURE: Barrick is also owner of this publication.
Researcher, educator says campaign will focus on working class issues such as education and healthcare
LENOIR, N.C. – Today, researcher and educator Dr. Art Sherwood announced his candidacy to represent District 46 of the North Carolina Senate. Sherwood is a Democrat.
“I am honored to announce that I am running to represent district 46 in the North Carolina Senate,” Dr. Sherwood said. “My wife Gwen and I have two children and seven grandchildren, and it is out of deep concern for the world we are leaving behind for the next generation that I have decided to run for office.”
“I am convinced that we can do a better job preparing our children for a changing future that demands lifelong learning.” Sherwood continued. “Restoring North Carolina’s reputation for excellence in education is vital to ensuring the success of future generations, our workforce, and our economy. We must support education in our state by paying our teachers the salaries they deserve and giving our schools the funding they need.
“Education is the key that unlocks the American dream.”
Quality, affordable healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege. We must transform our inefficient health care industry into a system rooted in compassion. No one should have to make the choice between life-changing treatments and buying food for their families.”
Having worked closely with those impacted by spinal cord injuries and disabilities, Sherwood also has a deep understanding of the importance of expanding affordable health care.
“We must expand Medicaid to our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” Dr. Sherwood insisted. He asserted, “Quality, affordable healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege. We must transform our inefficient health care industry into a system rooted in compassion. No one should have to make the choice between life-changing treatments and buying food for their families.”
He concluded, “It’s time to break the GOP stranglehold on the General Assembly and bring reason back to Raleigh.”
Senate District 46 is a newly constituted district and includes Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties. Previously, Caldwell County was in Senate District 45.
Dr. Art Sherwood is a man of faith and science. His family has deep roots in the mountains and foothills of Western North Carolina and in the church, as both his great-grandfather and grandfather served as preachers, along with his uncle, brother-in-law and cousin. Sherwood received the Bachelor’s and Master’s in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Following completion of his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Duke University in 1970, Sherwood joined the faculty at Texas A&M University, where he helped establish the Bioengineering Program. He moved to the Texas Medical Center in 1975 to develop the Clinical Neurophysiology Laboratory at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR). He became Director of Research for the Restorative Neurology Program at Baylor College of Medicine upon its founding in 1987. In 1997, he became Director of the Center of Excellence on Healthy Aging with Disabilities at the Michael E DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston where he developed a set of laboratories for quantitative studies of motor function, and carried out a series of studies in veterans after spinal cord injury, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Prior to his retirement in 2011, Sherwood played a significant role in guiding the disability research agenda on a national level in his role as Science and Technology Advisor to the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research in Washington, DC. Sherwood and his wife Gwen live in Caldwell County in the valley where they put down roots almost a half-century ago.
Pickin’ and playing on the porch as old as this Western North Carolina county
LENOIR, N.C. – Since the first European pioneers explored the Yadkin Valley and settled Tucker’s Barn – our modern day Lenoir – music has been central to our heritage.
Above, my buddy Andrew Massey takes a few minutes to pick on his guitar on his back deck. Constantly writing, he played two new tunes. Pickin’ and singing on your porch is nothing new in Lenoir or anywhere in Caldwell County. It’s a way of life. Musicians thrive off of each other and the heritage is continued!
It’s always a joy to enjoy the creative offerings of Andrew and his many friends. Indeed, he is part of Sycamore Bones, a local band that plays regionally and played an electrifying set in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. (Don’t miss the 20th annual Showcase on March 10. Read about it here).
One thing I concluded for certain from listening to Andrew offer his latest creations on an unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny February afternoon – the arts community truly is the shining light of Lenoir.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
20th Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase a tribute to its roots
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – More than 20 years ago, at a Christmas party at the home of Kay and Patrick Crouch, a typically spontaneous jam session broke out – not unlike the ones that have occurred in homes and on porches in Caldwell County for generations. Present that night was David Briggs, who was then the executive director of the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center.
Recalling that moment recently, Patrick revealed, “He turned to me and said, ‘Patty, why do we not have this on stage?’”
That simple question led to the first annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase at the Civic Center. The show was titled “It Must Be Something in the Water,” a tip to the long, seemingly unending population of musicians living among the hills and hollows of Caldwell County. Now, the 20th Annual Caldwell County Traditional Musicians Showcase is scheduled for March 10, featuring a few of the musicians from that first Showcase and others since, several new performers, and Briggs making an appearance.
“The Showcase was David’s idea,” shared Patrick. “This is a tribute to the original show. This is a tribute to the longevity of the series. I’ll be delighted to have David on stage. Also, Donna Minton, who has helped so much from the beginning.”
Patrick and Kay are teamed up with Ron Shuffler as Strictly Clean and Decent; they will serve as the host band as they have each year since 1998. Also, Roger Hicks and Lyndy Johnson, who performed in the 2001 Showcase, will have a set. “Roger Hicks and Lyndy Johnson are finger-style guitarists who are listed in the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area roster of traditional musicians,” said Patrick.
Patrick also noted that the artwork from the original Showcase was designed by David Courtner, and also expressed deep gratitude to Jeff Bentley, the current executive director of the Civic Center. Bentley, Patrick pointed out, has been there for every show, having been promoted from sound technician to executive director since Briggs left. “We are on solid ground due to the fact that he works hard to promote the show.”
It (the Showcase) has created a greater awareness of music and the folk arts. Folks have embraced that. It’s not only an American music we embrace. It’s Southern music. It’s Southern Appalachian music.” – Patrick Crouch
Despite having familiar faces this year, Patrick said that the fresh faces are just as exciting to him. “It makes me step back and take a reflective look. We have 12 people who have never been in the Showcase. Over 20 years we’ve had more than 200 musicians, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. We have an unlimited supply of talent. That’s beautiful.”
Patrick sang high praises for Conrad Boudreau who is recognized in the Unifour area as a mandolin teacher of young musicians. “He has come into our community with such energy and enthusiasm that he is influencing and encouraging other musicians.” Joining Boudreau will be Minton, whose popularity is evident by the number of times she has performed in the Showcase – in 1998, 2001, and 2007.
A previous performer, Charlie Carpenter (2005) will be joined by first-timer Todd McCloud. “They are known for their unique and powerful duet vocals,” said Patrick.
A couple typically associated with Lenoir’s furniture industry, Alex and Anne Bernhardt will play Cajun music on their first showcase appearance.
Red Rocking Chair, consisting of Jack Lawrence, Tom Kuhn, and Dale Meyer, who have been playing together 12 years, play Bluegrass music, but other genres as well.
Sarah Seymour and Nick Seymour, both of whom performed in 2010 as part of Sweetbriar Jam, will appear as members of Rooted, an acoustic band that plays Americana and roots music in an acoustic setting. Band members with Rooted making their first showcase appearance are Jimmy Atkins, Drew Gray, Seath Gray, and Morgan Smith.
Audience members will be also treated to the excellence of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians and the wit of Nancy Posey, taking her third turn as emcee.
Patrick notes that the Showcase is an important contribution to the rich arts tradition of Caldwell County. “It has created a greater awareness of music and the folk arts,” he said. “Folks have embraced that. It’s not only an American music we embrace. It’s Southern music. It’s Southern Appalachian music.
“It makes us a special place.”
The Showcase will be presented on Saturday, March 10, at 7:30 pm at the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Civic Center or by calling the box office at 828-726-2401.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
The Republican Party must stop its deranged leader now
By Michael M. Barrick
United States President Donald Trump must be removed from office. On New Year’s Day, North Korean President Kim Jong Un declared that a “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Trump took the bait, or just threw a temper tantrum for all we know, and replied via a tweet, “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
I must defer to people better trained in psychiatry to address the “bigger button” metaphor.
This I do know; we are living under the tyranny of a toddler.
Unfortunately, we’re not the only people stuck with a child in an adult’s chair. The whole world is because of our nuclear arsenal. Throw in another child in an adult’s chair – Kim Jong Un – and we have the perfect cocktail for all those nuclear explosions I practiced for during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
So, Vice President Pence – or somebody in the Cabinet with courage and clout – must lead the effort to remove President Donald Trump from office under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What they have to do is prove that Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Check. His tweeted, taunting rantings clearly reveal a man incapable of handling the grave responsibilities of the office. Such behavior is not suitable from a leader in any workplace. I can see it from North Carolina. Certainly Pence and the Cabinet members can see it from where they genuflect.
The argument that Section 4 has never been used is a straw man. Let the lawyers figure out whether a 71-year-old man should be conducting foreign policy using a teenager’s platform that could start a war that would cause the deaths of millions of people.
The president has done enough. He has revealed – repeatedly – his cruelty and wickedness. His presidency threatens the life of every human on the planet. The GOP must mitigate the existential threat posed by Donald Trump.
So, we need to ask a couple of question of the Republican Party. Do you not care about even your own families, let alone all of civilization? And, as Boston attorney Joseph Welch asked of Senator Joe McCarthy regarding his Red Scare witch hunt of the early 1950s, “Have you no sense of decency?”
That is not all that Welch said though. According to the U.S. Senate website, McCarthy accused a lawyer on Welch’s staff of having ties to Communists. Welch responded, “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He continued, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
The president has done enough. He has revealed – repeatedly – his cruelty and wickedness. His presidency threatens the life of every human on the planet. The GOP must mitigate the existential threat posed by Donald Trump. Is there a person of courage left in the GOP? Or shall we all die under the tyranny of a toddler tyrant?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Mattis suggests that troops read sobering Korean War history
By Michael M. Barrick
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – When U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently advised soldiers to read, “This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness” by T. H. Fehrenbach, I immediately walked over to a book shelf and grabbed my copy of it. It is just one of many books I own and have read about the Korean War, but I knew instantly why Mattis recommended it to the troops. Fehrenbach’s book is the ultimate After Action Review (AAR) of the Korean War.
The diplomatic, political and military failures are mercilessly explored. So are the successes. However, based on other remarks that Mattis made at Ft. Bragg, I believe he was warning the troops to study about the dangers of unpreparedness.
I am particularly interested in the Korean War because my uncle died there on 12 July 1950, six years before I was born. However, to people who knew him, such as my dad and grandmother, he remained very much alive in their memories. So, his life narrative was an integral part of our family history.
His name was George M. Barrick Jr. I have written about him before, here. He was among “ … the majority (that) had fought and died” (Fehrenbach, p. 87) in the early days of July, 1950. His death, recorded in detail by a surviving companion, was horrid. Fehrenbach’s version is sanitized; “And on the retaken ground Jensen found six American soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head” (p. 87). In short, it was routine for POWs, especially officers, to be executed by the North Koreans.
In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.” – T. R. Fehrenbach
With Mattis doing his duty – preparing soldiers for war with North Korea as diplomatic options dwindle – his advice is good for all Americans: pick up a copy of Fehrenbach’s book. Be prepared though. He pulls no punches. On p. 84, in summarizing the slaughter of American troops after their arrival in South Korea around 1 July, he writes, “What happened to them might have happened to any American in the summer of 1950. For they represented exactly the kind of pampered, undisciplined, egalitarian army their society had long desired and at last achieved.”
Ouch. Yet, he continues, “They had been raised to believe the world was without tigers, then sent to face those tigers with a stick. On their society must fall the blame.”
This last assertion by Fehrenbach is severe. Yet, he wrote this book just 10 years after the cease-fire was signed at Panmunjom on 27 July 1953. In that three years, more than 50,000 U.S. troops and millions of Koreans died. Since then, millions more have died in North Korea at the hands of its Communist leaders, people just as ruthless as the ones that shot my uncle in the back of the head after he had surrendered.
Fehrenbach and others also point out that the Truman administration had sent signals to North Korea, as well as Russia and China, that the United States would not go to war over Korea. In short, everyone miscalculated.
So, let’s just consider one more section from Fehrenbach’s book about those miscalculations. “In the first terrible, shattering days of July 1950, casualties among officers of high rank in the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War. They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.” He continues, “If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground” (p. 85).
He added, “The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war” (p. 85).
No, it was not. And despite many heroic actions, including the delaying action in which my uncle was killed, we accomplished no diplomatic objectives through the military action. The 38th parallel was the demarcation line between North Korea and South Korea the day the war started and was roughly so three years later, when the cease-fire was signed.
Writing in July, 1962 in the book’s Preface, Fehrenbach asserted, “In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.”
He added, “Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or spirit.”
It is no wonder Mattis wants his troops to read Fehrenbach’s history. It is full of sobering words for our nation and our leaders. Are we, as a people, committed to sending more troops to fight and die on distant hills in Asia? For too long, we have asked too few to sacrifice too much. That is symptomatic of a nation “not ready, either in body or spirit.”
Mattis has issued a wake-up call about the existential threat caused by unpreparedness – of mind, body and spirit. How shall we respond?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
We have no choice but to slow down
By Michael M. Barrick
CALDWELL COUNTY, N.C. – Here, of North Carolina’s 100 counties, the elevation increase is the highest in the state, from about 900 feet, where the Catawba River forms much of the southern boundary, to the high Blue Ridge slopes of Grandfather Mountain, where the peaks kiss the sky at just under 6,000 feet far to the north.
So, it can be raining at one end and dropping a foot of snow at the other. We live in the center of the county, near the base of Hibriten Mountain (elevation 2,211 feet). It is the western peak of the Brushy Mountain Range of the Appalachian Mountains.
Beginning yesterday morning and not ceasing since, we’ve gotten an early December snowfall; it isn’t unheard of, but it isn’t an annual event either. The prediction was 2 to 4 inches or more of snow. We reached “or more” within hours of the first flake falling yesterday around 8 a.m.So, we have no choice but to slow down, enjoy the quiet and relax. It also seems like a good time to take a few photos and offer a prayer for peace.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017.
A time of anticipation – and questioning
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: I acknowledge that other faith traditions have sacred observances now and throughout the year. I make no claims to an exclusive truth. Rather, I simply follow the advice of Mark Twain and write what I know about. So, having been raised by devoted Catholic parents, it is only natural that at this time of year, I ponder Advent.
LENOIR, N.C. – As I gaze out the window above my desk listening to Christmas music and watch the ground silently and magically turn white from a predicted 2 – 4 inch snowfall, I am naturally nostalgic.
My fundamental belief is that Advent is about love – nothing more, nothing less.
Yet, as I generally do every December, I am struggling to hold onto what I believed as a child when the snows began to fall in the West Virginia hills. It is a time of anticipation – and questioning.
Naturally, as a child, my anticipation had more to do with the football or bicycle I hoped I was going to get on Christmas morning. Now, in my seventh decade on the planet, I find the season to be a time of questioning.
My fundamental belief is that Advent is about love – nothing more, nothing less. It has taken my whole life (well, not yet is hasn’t), to figure out that Jesus simply calls us to love and expressly forbids us from judging others. Amy Grant sings of it in “Emmanuel, God With Us.” The claim of Christmas is a claim of Incarnation, a claim many simply find implausible.
Even if you do believe it, living it is a whole different matter. Others often confuse me for Scrooge in December. That’s not true; I’m always a curmudgeon. The difference in December is that I find it difficult to not get angry since most Christians don’t seem to make much effort to examine and live the implications of the Incarnation.
So, I just get particularly grouchy in December. A lifelong friend, though, has helped me look at Advent differently this year. The question I ponder every December is eloquently and expertly addressed by the late Dr. Howard Thurman, a theologian I learned about from my friend, who sent me Dr. Thurman’s book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” published in 1949.
Dr. Thurman gets immediately to the point on page 1. “Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak.” Forcing us to study the human Jesus in first century Palestine, Dr. Thurman adds, “The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them?”(Italics added).
Dr. Thurman is not alone in asking that question. Several musicians cause me to consider the message and meaning of Advent. Among them are:
- “Grown Up Christmas List” by Amy Grant
- “Summer Sun or Winter Skies” by David Haas
- “Mary Did Your Know?” by Kathy Mattea
Each, like Dr. Thurman, gives us much to contemplate this month – and always.
© Michael. M. Barrick, 2017.
Many West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome
By Michael M. Barrick
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It was 110 years ago today that the greatest coal-mining disaster in United States history occurred in the small mining town of Monongah in northern West Virginia.
On December 6, 1907, at about 10:30 a.m., two coal mines – connected underground – known as Monongah No. 6 and Monongah No. 8, were destroyed by a series of explosions that killed more than 500 miners. While the official count listed 358 miners and three rescuers dead, the use of subcontractors by miners to increase their production, as well as the number of funerals, have lead historians to conclude that the number of dead likely exceeds 500. Located just south of Fairmont, the mines – owned by the Fairmont Coal Company – rocked the earth, destroyed the mines’ infrastructure, and sent debris flying hundreds of yards above ground as it obliterated above-ground entrances and buildings.
The disaster affected every person in the town, which was built along the banks and hillsides surrounding the West Fork branch of the Monongahela River. Despite its small size and hard living, it was a diverse community, made up of nearby residents but also a vast number of immigrants from Central and Southern Europe. By 1905, Monongah had about 6,000 residents.
There is plenty of evidence that West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, ‘a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands.’
Such human tragedy, unfortunately, has left many lessons unlearned. In fact, it suggests that a vast majority of West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome.
That was made abundantly clear yesterday with the report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting that “Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has officially filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.” Yes, that’s the same Don Blankenship that got by with murder, as I wrote here about the 29 coal miners that died in the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mining disaster on April 5, 2010. He is out of prison from his paltry one-year sentence for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.
The timing of his filing is beyond ironic; it is downright contemptible.
Just as miners were changing shifts that early spring afternoon in 2010 at the UBB coal mine, an explosion roared through the mine. Instantly, the 29 miners working for Massey Energy were dead, families were devastated and communities of southern West Virginia were forever changed.
Clearly, since technology has improved to the point that major mining disasters simply need not happen, the problem is not with the science of deep mining; it is with the culture that guides the crony capitalism which has dominated West Virginia since the beginning of the industrial age.
West Virginians and the Stockholm Syndrome
Unfortunately, it is just not industrialist and politicians who are to blame; so too are many West Virginians. They simply vote against their own interests. It would not surprise me if Blankenship wins the Republican primary and defeats the Democratic incumbent, Joe Manchin III. Regardless of how the campaign plays out, there is plenty of evidence that West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, “a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
This notion was recently shared with me by a very frustrated mayor in a small West Virginia town long-ago abandoned by the coal companies, leaving behind a dying community and destroyed landscape in a once-beautiful valley carved out by numerous rivers. One might take issue with the mayor’s claim, which is based on his disgust with the overwhelming support that West Virginia voters gave President Trump and Governor Jim Justice, who this past summer switched to the Republican Party after being elected as a Democrat last year. Justice is also the state’s only billionaire.
What is not debatable, however, is the deadly history of the coal industry in West Virginia. That Blankenship has the audacity to file for office, exactly 110 years after the Monongah tragedy, suggests that West Virginia is full of people essentially saying, “Abuse me. Please.”
What happened at Upper Big Branch
This was the blunt conclusion of the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP) about UBB. Among the panel’s findings:
• The disaster was preventable because basic safety systems failed and/or were disregarded;
• These failure of safety systems was caused by a corporate culture by mine operator Massey Energy that put profits before safety;
• Massey Energy was able to operate with such a corporate culture because its dominant influence in the West Virginia coalfields allowed it to exert inordinate influence on West Virginia political officials responsible for ensuring mine safety; and,
• Those with regulatory oversight at both the state and federal levels failed in their roles as watchdogs.
In short, it is business as usual in the West Virginia coalfields. From the worst mining disaster in U.S. history, to the most recent disaster at Upper Big Branch, the words of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones are as appropriate today as when she first spoke them roughly a century ago – “There is never peace in West Virginia because there is never justice.”
At Monongah, both mines were less than 10 years old and were producing in excess of 12,000 tons of coal a day by the time of explosion. They were also considered state-of-the art. “Mines No. 6 and 8 both employed the most up-to-date, sophisticated ventilation systems.” (McAteer 64). John Nugent, the Immigration Commissioner for the State of West Virginia affirmed an advertisement made by The Consolidated Coal Co., Inc. seeking immigrant help. The mines, the company claimed, were, “Practically free from explosive gases.” (McAteer 74).
Obviously, the advertisements were mistaken or false. Thus, the all-too cozy relationship between operators and those charged with regulating them was formed. As the UBB GIIP reports, that has remained unchanged a century later. While the exact cause of the Monongah explosion was never determined – as much for political as scientific reasons – there was no mistaking that the influence the mining owners enjoyed with local and state politicians ensured that the operators’ interests – profits – always trumped the miners’ interests – a safe working environment.
When the explosion occurred, 19 coal cars (each loaded with two tons of coal), being pulled out of the bowels of the mine broke free and crashed 1,300 feet back into the mine portal. The runaway cars broke lose electrical wiring, destroyed structures and ultimately disrupted the ventilation system. “At that instant, from deep within the mine an explosion rumbled, a terrible explosive report rocketing out of both mines, rippling shocks through the earth in every direction. … A second explosion followed immediately, and at the No. 8 mine entrances explosive forces rocketed out of the mine mouth like blasts from a cannon, the forces shredding everything in their path” (McAteer 116).
Blaming the Victims
Even though an exact cause was not immediately known or even determined, it was not long before the miners themselves were made the scapegoats. Fairmont Coal Company President C. W. Watson immediately capitalized on the anti-immigrant feelings of the time, telling the New York Times almost immediately after the disaster that “… he could not account for the ignition of the dust unless it had been through careless use of an open lamp” (McAteer 158).
Conversely, Clarence Hall, a leading expert on mine explosions at the time, was in nearby Pennsylvania when the catastrophe occurred. He stated, “When I enter a mine these days it is with fear and trembling. We seem to know so little of these gas and dust explosions. Sometimes I feel the poor miner has not a ghost of a show for his life when he enters a mine.” (McAteer 159)
Tragedy upon Tragedy
There were no organized rescue teams in U.S. mines at the time. However, the dangers to the rescuers, along with the reality that the effort was a recovery effort for dead miners allowed for time to organize miners and volunteers. Of course, rescue efforts – such as repairing the ventilation systems in the hopes of removing the deadly gases from the mines – were heroic, if unsuccessful. “What has to be said is that the rescue efforts were not successful and the equipment provided to miners to ensure their escape was inadequate” (McAteer 264).
It soon became apparent to the rescuers and stunned families of the miners gathering on the Monongah hillsides that the force of the blast, the lack of oxygen, and the instability of the mine combined for a horrible reality – virtually all those in the mine had perished. Recovered bodies were a horrid site to behold. Mine explosions “…inflict multiple-system life threatening injuries on many persons simultaneously. When the explosion is of a high order of magnitude, it can produce a defining supersonic, overpressurization shock wave” (McAteer 131).
Injuries include damaged or destroyed lungs, blunt force trauma to the head and body, ruptures of the middle ear and eye, and damage to internal organs. Those that survive those injuries generally die from suffocation as lethal gases are released following the explosion. Rescuers, too, were at great risk. In addition to the instability of the mine and lack of oxygen, rescuers had no personal protective equipment or breathing devices. “Imagine a handful of reckless, bedraggled men going into the cavern with lanterns with sulfurous fumes in their faces dragging out the charred bodies of men, some with their faces burned off. That is what Monongah looked like. …In some instances the bodies were perfectly preserved and recognition was immediate; in other cases, the bodies were so badly disfigured or mutilated, identification was impossible.” (McAteer 143).
An Unholy Alliance
Motivated by the example of John D. Rockefeller, who in the late 19th Century controlled much of the world’s oil resources, financiers from outside of West Virginia collaborated with well-connected Mountain State elected officials, judges, municipal leaders and state and local law enforcement to extract coal from its mountains, leaving not even the dignity of the coal miners intact. “The fact that the Fairmont companies, led by the Monongah mines, paid lower wages across the board meant that the three mines could sell their coal at a lower rate and thereby capture an increasing share of the markets, threatening the wages and unionization in the other states” (McAteer 101). Indeed, by the turn of the century, three men – U.S. Senators Johnson N. Camden and Clarence Watson, as well as Judge A. B. Fleming, controlled all of the mines along the Monongahela River in West Virginia, as well as the railroad lines.
Meanwhile, the company fought efforts to compensate the surviving family members of the dead miners. This is not surprising, as “In the early 1900s, families of miners who died in a mine accident or disaster had nothing in the way of economic protection and little legal recourse following a mine disaster. This was especially true in West Virginia where the coal interest was entwined with every facet of the state’s political, economic, social and legal systems” (McAteer 212).
Companies also vigorously – and successfully – opposed unionization efforts for decades. “The powerful elite of West Virginia on both Democrat and Republican side of the aisle united in their opposition to union organization efforts, and after seeing the success of the Fairmont Consolidation Company, the southern West Virginia mine operations that wished to build on the success met in secret to decide on some general plan of resistance to union encroachments based on the successful strategy employed at Monongah” (McAteer 113).
So, politicians debated and dithered. Meanwhile, miners continued to die at alarming rates. In fact, “On November 20, 1968, the Farmington Mine, a mine not five miles from the Monongah mine in the same Pittsburgh seam owned by the same company, Consolidation Coal Company, exploded, trapping seventy-eight miners” ( McAteer 262). Though federal legislation followed that disaster – the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 – the unholy alliance between coal officials and West Virginia elected leaders continued – and does to this day. For proof, we need look no further than the UBB disaster.
We know we should learn from history. Yet, as we consider the human suffering inflicted upon the people of Monongah 110 years ago, and upon those of Upper Big Branch, Farmington, Buffalo Creek, Sago, Blair Mountain, and countless other communities since, we must conclude that we have not.
This should give us pause. The West Virginia state motto is Montani Semper Liberi – “Mountaineers are Always Free.” Though they may think they are, they are mistaken. In reality, my friend the mayor is right. The proud people of the Mountain State are not free; rather, as the Stockholm Syndrome illustrates, they “identify closely” with their crony capitalist captors and their demands.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017. Michael M. Barrick is a native of Clarksburg, W.Va. He has lived also in Weston and Alum Bridge. He presently writes from his home in Western North Carolina, but continues to visit and work in his home state.
David McAteer, Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster (Morgantown, W.Va: West Virginia University Press, 2007).
Upper Big Branch: The April 5, 2010 explosion: a failure of basic coal mine safety practices (Shepherdstown, W.Va: Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, May 2011).
The Sago Mine Disaster: A preliminary report to Governor Joe Manchin III (Buckhannon, W.Va: Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, July 2006).