Bill Lynch, Mason Adams, Kelley Libby, Howard Berkes, Connie Bailey Kitts Published

Celebrating A Tradition Of Poets And Discussing The Resurgence Of Black Lung, Inside Appalachia

A woman wearing glasses and business casual attire is shown with a family photograph.
Jeanette Wilson with a picture of a family reunion where her grandfather’s and uncle’s poems were always read and passed down within the family.
Connie Kitts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This week, Rev. George Mills Dickerson of Tazewell, Virginia was born in the years after slavery ended. He’s remembered today through his poetry.

And a new wave of black lung disease is ravaging Appalachia. We’ll hear more from a black lung town hall in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Coal miners have their own thoughts about black lung, too.

You’ll hear these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode:

Celebrating Poetry About 20th Century African American Life

Poetry has been a tradition in Jeanette Wilson’s family for generations. They’ve recited the poems of Wilson’s grandfather and her uncle George for nearly a century. Now, these poems about African American life in southwest Virginia are reaching a wider audience — and connecting the past to the present. 

Folkways Reporter Connie Kitts brings us this story.

The Voices Of Black Lung Miners

For years, it looked like black lung disease was on the decline, but a new epidemic has emerged. In 2018, NPR and the PBS program Frontline investigated a resurgence of advanced black lung among coal miners across Appalachia. They found that despite mounting evidence and a stream of warnings, federal regulators and mining companies failed to protect workers.

The result was that thousands of miners were afflicted with an advanced stage of black lung disease — known as Progressive Massive Fibrosis.

We bring this story from the miners themselves, as told to NPR’s Howard Berkes and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Benny Becker. It was originally broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered on Jan. 22, 2019. The full documentary Coal’s Deadly Dust is available on

Black Lung Town Hall Meeting In Kentucky

In July, the Appalachian Citizens Law Center hosted a black lung town hall in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The nonprofit law firm invited miners and their families to hear from experts about the current state of black lung disease in Appalachia. One of those experts is Kentucky radiologist James Brandon Crum, who first alerted federal researchers to what they later labeled an epidemic of complicated black lung. 

WMMT in Whitesburg recorded the meeting for its program Mountain Talk. What Dr. Crum has to say is eye-opening — especially if you’re not part of the coal mining community.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Jeff Ellis, Charlie McCoy, Southern Culture on the Skids, June Carter Cash, and Tim and Dave Bing

Bill Lynch is our producer. Zander Aloi is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.

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Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.