On our travels through West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, we heard just one person refer in earnest to a war on coal. We heard many others—economists, community development leaders, small-business owners, ex-miners—say that the moment of transition had arrived. That there was no going back. That coal might still be mined, some miners might keep their jobs, but the industry would never again be what it once was. To say good-bye to coal—even if just to say good-bye to its halcyon days—is a profound spiritual and emotional decision for a people who have watched their family members work, suffer, and die underground, who have loved and taken deep pride in the community coal created. One person invoked the stages of grief, several others mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s hard to overstate—and perhaps, to outsiders, hard to explain at all—the mental shift that this economic change represents, and the reevaluation of identity it prompts.
Today, we bring you another series of stories about the economic transition currently taking place in Central Appalachia. This series comes to us from two West Virginia coalfields natives: Courtney Balestier and Elaine McMillion Sheldon, both of whom are award-winning journalists, and passionate about telling the stories of their native Appalachia. The above quote is just one snippet of a really great series, the rest of which, you can read here.