Coal Country

On this West Virginia Morning, we hear from the co-creators of a new Off-Broadway play that honors the men who died at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster 10 years ago. Also, in this episode, meatpacking plants are being ordered to stay in operation, despite the sector being hit hard by the coronavirus. How are some plant workers across the region faring?

The Legacy Of The Upper Big Branch Disaster

May 13, 2020
Joan Marcus

Ten years ago, the Upper Big Branch Mine exploded in West Virginia. Twenty-nine men died and an investigation uncovered that a legacy of overlooked safety measures contributed to the disaster.

A new play called “Coal Country” focuses on the stories of the men and their families. It aims to put a spotlight on prejudice against the rural working class — to bridge a divide between city dwellers and those who work with their hands underground.

Coal Country: Can A Play About A Mine Disaster Help Bridge A National Divide?

Apr 5, 2020
Joan Marcus / The Public Theater

 

The actors deliver their lines from a sparse stage — just a few benches around them and 29 modest lights above. For the most part they speak directly to the audience, sharing memories of the lives of husbands, sons, fathers and nephews, some of the 29 men who died on April 5, 2010, when an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.  

It’s a powerful performance, made even more so by the realization that nearly all of the actors’ dialogue is drawn directly from court transcripts and hours of interviews with about a half dozen people who lived through that tragic day and the many long days that followed.

“Coal Country,” which opened in New York’s storied Public Theater, introduced New York theater-goers to the real lives of families affected by the tragedy.

Brian Blauser/ Mountain Stage

Get a first glimpse at the new video for “Coal Country.”

Bernie Sanders
David Becker / AP Photo

Former presidential candidate and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming to the coal country of southern West Virginia for a Town Hall meeting about the needs of rural Americans.

Sanders will speak Sunday afternoon at Mount View High School in the city of Welch. The event is being hosted by MSNBC, which plans to broadcast it later, calling it "an unscripted, no-holds-barred conversation" with people from McDowell County about the issues facing them and communities like theirs.