Community to Get Sneak Peek of National PBS Coal Wars Film

Jan 13, 2016

If you’re a West Virginia history buff, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the National Coal Heritage Area had you in mind as they arranged a preview of a national documentary in southern West Virginia. A special sneak peek of The Mine Wars, a new documentary from the PBS AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series, is scheduled Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6:30pm, in the Hulett C. Smith Theater at Tamarack.

Miners pose with guns in Eskdale, WV in 1912.
Credit Courtesy Dale Payne

The evening will include extended program excerpts, refreshments, and conversation led by the series’  Executive Director and former West Virginia Public Broadcasting filmmaker,  Mark Samels.  The idea for the film came from Samels, who spent a significant period of his career in West Virginia.  He says he learned firsthand how deeply the Mountain State is connected to coal mining.

“This is a truly American story about people fighting for their dignity and the rights they believed had been promised by their government, but which had been denied by their employers,” said Samels, now at WBGH-TV in Boston.

The Mine Wars shows a different side of the miners, who were willing to do a back-breaking and dangerous job, yet who were often dismissed and denigrated by the rest of the country,” he said.

At the dawn of the 20th century, coal was the fuel that powered the nation. Yet few Americans thought much about the men who blasted the black rock from underground and hauled it to the surface. The Mine Wars tells the overlooked story of the miners in the mountains of southern West Virginia — native mountaineers, African American migrants, and European immigrants — who came together in a protracted struggle for their rights.

Labor Organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones came to West Virginia to convince coal miners to join the United Mine Workers of America. Photo circa 1910-1915.
Credit Library of Congress

"We are proud to bring back Mark Samels, who cut his teeth doing award-winning work while he was at WNPB, our station in Morgantown, like West Virginia: A Film History, the Different Drummer series, and several co-productions with the BBC," said Scott Finn, Executive Director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“We know those in attendance will find the evening both informative and fascinating.”

The Tamarack preview event is free and open to the public.

“The Mine Wars” brings the history of the struggle to unionize the southern West Virginia coalfields back to life,” said Christy Bailey, Executive Director of the National Coal Heritage Area.  “We are so pleased to co-sponsor this preview event and honored that some of the local historians who are featured in the film will be joining us to share their perspectives as well.”

The 2-hour AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film The Mine Wars premieres on PBS stations Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 9p.m.