Freese details the changes that occurred in the U.S. between the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century, without mention of the significant contribution of African-Americans to the coal-mining industry in the Appalachian region, which unfortunately is not uncommon. In “From Peasant to Proletarian: The Migration of Southern Blacks to the Central Appalachian Coalfields,” historian Robert L. Lewis notes that although much has been written about the masses of blacks who moved north during The Great Migration, “Almost entirely neglected in this literature, however, are the tens of thousands of blacks whose trek North was interrupted by a generational stopover in the central Appalachian coalfields, primarily in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky” (Lewis, 79). Between 300,000 and 400,000 blacks fled the south between 1890 and 1917 (Lewis). As the nation’s major coal producing region, central Appalachia’s population of black miners is of obvious significance. It is estimated that between the late 1800’s and the early 1930’s, blacks made up 20-26 percent of the total coal mining labor force in West Virginia. Although Freese discusses certain historical episodes of “labor drama” particular to West Virgina, and mentions the role of women during this time period, there is no inclusion of black miners. In a recent study conducted by Dr. Michael Hendryx (West Virginia University), the results showed “that higher mortality rates in Appalachia are due to poverty, smoking, poor education and race-related effects” (Hendryx, 8). By failing to include the contribution of African-American miners in her human history, Freese rewrites the racial past in the same way that the media has historically repackaged the dark truth of dangers of the coal mining industry. Without this accurate historical background, it would be impossible to fully understand the depths of meaning within Good’s imagery in “Black Diamonds.” Crystal Good ties the imagery of black enslavement in America, while depicting the history of coal mining labor as another type of slavery in the U.S. “Today this pressure forms black diamonds/from blood/from sweat/from love/from slaves buried/in unmarked graves” she writes. She takes the reader on a journey of “hundreds of years/that the earth fell/in on miners” that ignites memories of a buried racial past, where it becomes evident that like blacks, the coal miner’s “history is scattered” (Good).
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Hendryx, Michael. “Mortality Rates in Appalachian Coal Mining Counties: 24 Years Behind the Nation.” Environmental Justice 1.1 (2008): 5-11. Print.
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