Coal extraction has fueled conflict in the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia since the early 1900s. This industry supported the area and was once a booming region.
Massey Energy opened their first non-union mine in 1981, known as Elk Run, and over the decades they overtook most of the unionized underground and surface mining operations in the region. And without any other industries, the town is now reliant on the coal industry.
As recently as April 2010, 29 miners lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion at the non-union Performance Coal Plant, a subsidiary of Massey Energy.
Jerry [name withheld], a local mechanic at Duncan’s Service Station in Whitesville, remembers a time when there was a movie theater, restaurants and seven bars in the town. But, within a few decades, the town of Whitesville has shrunk to a population of a little more than 500 according to the 2000 census.
Out of this population close to 40 percent, or about 200 people, live below the poverty line. How can a town expect to be sustainable when the coal industry keeps them limited to a mono-economy?
Junior Walk, 20, a former Massey Energy employee and security guard decided that he had seen enough of his own backward leveled by mountaintop removal practices. In response, Junior decided to join the Coal River Mountain Watch, a grassroots organization located in the heart of downtown Whitesville, in 2010.
Consequently, he and his family had to part ways because his father still works for Massey Energy. Yet, that did not stop Junior from staying in the region and pushing forward in his activism.
This is an on-going project.