In 1946 Russell Lee made more than four thousand photographs throughout the Appalachian coalfields. He accepted an assignment from the Department of the Interior, which came about as a result of worsening conditions in many mines and mining camps during WWII and shortly thereafter. In 1946 the Department of the Interior and the United Mine Workers conducted a joint survey of medical, health and Mines Administration. At the time of the survey the coal industry was under government control, having been placed there by President Truman in order to end a 59-day strike by the United Mine Workers of America. As part of the unique agreement between the government and the union, the survey was undertaken to document the working and living conditions then prevalent in the industry.
These are a few of my favorites.
Russell Lee Photographic Collection, 1979, 79PA103. Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
1. Handling serpents at the Pentecostal Church of God. Company funds have not been used in this church and it is not on company property. Most of the members are coal miners and their families. Lejunior, Harlan County, KY. 15 September 1946.
2. Miners bring in their checks and see the sign that there is no Saturday work. Lejunior, Harlan County, KY. 13 September 1946.
3. A miner. Lejunior, Harlan County, KY. 13 September 1946.
4. Mrs. Leanore Miller, widow of a miner, with a picture of her husband. She said, “There’s more widows and orphans in this holler than men at work.” Four Mile, Bell County, KY. 4 September 1946.
5. Rufus Sergent, his wife and son. Rufus is a son of Blaine Sergent, a coal miner for 48 years. Rufus has been working in the mines since he was 15, quitting school in the fourth grade. He is now a cutter. Lejunior, Harlan County, KY. 13 September 1946.
6. Mr. and Mrs. James Robert Howard and their four children. They live in three rooms of a two-family house. The rent is $7.90 monthly and charges for electricity run about $4 monthly. Gilliam, McDowell County, W. Va. 13 August 1946.
7. Furman Currington and his son, miners. Kenvir, Harlan County, KY. 6 September 1946.
8. Welch is the shopping and entertainment center for the nearby mining camps. Welch, McDowell County. W. Va. 25 August 1946.
9. Saturday afternoon street scene. Welch, McDowell County, W. Va. 24 August 1946.
10. Mr. and Mrs. Tudor Circo on their front porch. Raven, Tazewell County, Va. 28 August 1946.