Union leader Sam Church died in Bristol, Tennessee, on July 14, 2009, at age 72.
He was a native of Matewan in Mingo County. Both of his grandfathers had been coal miners as had his father—before becoming a barber.
In 1965, Church became a miner in Virginia and joined the United Mine Workers of America. In 1975, UMWA President Arnold Miller named Church to his staff. Church was elected vice-president of the UMWA in 1977 and moved into the presidency in 1979 following Miller’s resignation.
During his three years as head of the UMWA, Church worked to improve mine safety laws and benefits for black lung victims and miners’ widows. In 1981, UMWA members rejected a contract Church had negotiated and went on strike for 72 days. The next year, he was voted out of office in favor of Richard Trumka, who would lead the UMWA for the next 13 years.
After his defeat, Sam Church worked for a coal company in Virginia. Following Church’s death, Trumka said of him, “He was a union man from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”