Friday, September 19, 2008

Coal mining and cemeteries don't mix, writer says

Arguments about coal mining typically draw lines along environmental or economic grounds, but a West Virginia woman wants to publicize an unexpected consequence: the restriction of access to cemeteries. In an open letter to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, published by the Daily Yonder, Betty Dotson-Lewis entreats "Mr. Future President" to take into consideration the way that coal mining is affecting Appalachian traditions, including the way mountaineers honor their dead.

Massey Energy owns the only access road to the Underwood family cemetery in Nicholas County, W.Va., and has strict policies that create numerous obstacles for those who want to visit the cemetery, and visitors must be accompanied by Massey guards, who are not always available, Dotson-Lewis reports. Even when they are, the sititation sometimes doesn't sit well, she writes, telling the story of a graveside service for a coal-mining family. "After crossing the hurdles, the sister was laid to rest but grieving family members were uncomfortable being watched over by guards during the burial ceremony," she writes. A cousin of the deceased told her that when her father died, "Everyone had to stay until the undertakers were finished burying her father so the guards would only have to make one trip out of the cemetery, escorting the entire burial party. The family felt this was an unusually harsh sight for the small children along."

Dotson-Lewis ends her open letter: "At least two Purple Heart recipients lie there. Soldiers who fought and gave their lives in World War II were both on the verge of being rooted out of the ground by machinery or blown to bits by mining explosives some 70 years after falling on a distant battlefield and enduring the long ride home to rest in the family cemetery in Jones Branch Hollow on top of Lone Star Mountain. ... Mr. Future President, do you know what coal miners and their families are encountering? Strip-mining coal in Appalachia is destroying our way of life and our way of death." (Read more)

1 comment:

Ben Underwood said...

My name is Benjamin Underwood and my grandparents, great grand parents, uncles, and cousins are all buried there. I was at the cemetary about 5 years ago and it is just as you say.Thank you for coming to the aid of the family.Anything I can do to help you? email me