A Brother Died in the Montcoal, West Virginia Coal Mine Disaster, Too (w/Update)

UPDATE (4/12/10): Found, William Roosevelt Lynch’s obituary, dated April 9, 2010. Scroll down to find it.

Dozens of mourners for miner William Roosevelt Lynch of Oak Hill, W.Va. lined up outside the Outreach For Christ Christian Center for his funeral service on Sunday, in Beckley, W.Va. Lynch was one of the 29 miners who died Monday in the gas explosion at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. (Courtesy: Amy Sancetta/AP)

The newscasts showed the miners’ faces so fleetingly that one could scarce get to know who they were. One would think that there were only whites there, but I started at the one dark face among the 29 lost, and I only found out who he was tonight.

Zachariah Woodson pays his last respects at the casket of his uncle William Roosevelt Lynch during funeral services for the miner on Sunday, April 11, 2010 in Beckley, W.Va. (Courtesy: Amy Sancetta/AP)

His name was William Roosevelt Lynch. He was a shuttle-car operator, meaning that he transported coal from the diggings to mine cars or to a conveyor, and he performed other senior, supervisory duties. And he was buried today.

Friends say their farewells to William Roosevelt Lynch, who died in the tragic Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia last Monday (Courtesy: Charleston Gazette)

This is what the AP had to say about him:

William Roosevelt Lynch wore many hats, including that of a coal miner.

Over his career, the 59-year-old who went by Roosevelt was a teacher, coached three sports and was about to welcome his fourth grandchild into the world. He also worked in the mines for more than 30 years.

Lynch was among the dead, said his brother, Melvin Lynch of Mount Hope, who also was in the mine at the time.

Roosevelt Lynch was a longtime Oak Hill resident who coached basketball, football and track and taught on the high school and middle school levels.

“A lot of people around town called him coach,” Melvin Lynch said. “He would substitute teach, then coach and then work in the mines. He used to have that rigorous schedule.”

Oak Hill High basketball coach Fred Ferri said Roosevelt Lynch also competed in a summer basketball league in Beckley.

“He was in excellent condition,” Ferri said. “He played last summer. He’s out there running with kids. Roosevelt was a heck of an athlete.”

And you’d think that the only black folk out of West Virginia was Skip Gates. Or that black men also worked the mines, either as strikebreakers in the bad old days, desperate for a hand up, or as legitimate unionized mine workers. Not many, but enough. They had to fight to be there (and may still have to), even doing some of the most dangerous work in the world.

(Ever see a movie called Matewan? It’s based on a true story and was directed by John Sayles in 1987. James Earl Jones was in it. Rent it or find it in your library.)

Melvin Lynch said that he didn’t blame Massey Energy for the disaster. Maybe he simply didn’t wish to dwell on the situation just yet, or perhaps he was afraid of the company. But I do blame them. Decades of Republican (and Democrat) meddling with and undermining worker’s rights, health and safety, the collapse of the United Mine Workers union, and the greed of the mine owners have led to this state of affairs. These men did not have to die. While the investigation has yet to bear fruit, I believe that had enough bore holes had been drilled into the mine, the methane gas explosion might not have occurred. Instead, the company decided to cut corners once again, and human life became expendable.

Melvin Lynch also added that Roosevelt Lynch loved being a miner. And so he died as a miner with his boots on. William Roosevelt Lynch is survived by a wife of 37 years, Geneva; two grown children and three grandchildren.

Say a prayer for the Lynch family.

~ by blksista on April 11, 2010.

5 Responses to “A Brother Died in the Montcoal, West Virginia Coal Mine Disaster, Too (w/Update)”

  1. thanks for the profile blacksista. There are a group of counties in WV with a significant population of black people, often who came there because of mining. Besides Skip Gates, Carter Woodson was from WV- there is a stature of him in Huntington and a street named for him in Charleston. Frederick Douglass was also originally from the Charleston area.

    WV is extremely white, but these African American Coal Miners and their families are present in Mingo, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell and Cabell counties. There is a history of separate black schools and churches, but desegregation was fairly peaceful and uneventful- vs. east Virginia, which about shut down public schools and lead to private “academies” for white students.

    There is a photo of William Roosevelt Lynch in his coffin, with a nephew looking on. The nephew is in prison garb and shackles and is named as Zachariah Woodson. The irony of the well educated Lynch, with a degree in education and experience as a coach, working in a mine to make a much better living, being looked over by a young man whose life has clearly gone wrong, can’t be overlooked. Why was that picture in the Wall Street Journal? Why did that family shout at reporters to stop hassling the family members? I looked and there is no back story to the photo- it is just there for some reason all over the news, from a variety of angles. Do you suppose none of those 28 other white guys had no relatives in jail? I am sure some did, and some may have even been in jail themselves in their youth. There are a lot of wild partying Appalachians. I just found the picture ironic for what wasn’t said. Just out there without a backstory, for you to construct one based on your own biases.

    When President Obama comes here today for the memorial, I wonder those who think he is here to win over white people even realize he might be there also for a black man, a religious and civic leader, a beloved basketball coach.

    Thanks for your blog entry from a West Virginian who voted for Obama and continues to support him.


    • Brother Murray E, my using the photo of the young incarcerated nephew was just to show that even he wanted to come to say goodbye. It was also evident to me that Lynch’s daughters were having children, and that he may have been providing for them, too. The loss of Roosevelt Lynch was a loss not only for his community, his town, but his family as well. He was a black man standing alone and being responsible for his loved ones as well as trying to counsel them to stay on the right path. That’s the story I saw from the photograph.

      The media can be intrusive; it can make some people think that the Lynch family were a bunch of thugs. But I did not think that, and the scores of folks–203 at last count–who have seen this article probably don’t think that either. We know. There is no shame in this. Those who want to see shame are shameful and disrespectful.

      Please do tell your friends about my blog and pass it around. I give respect when I see what people have done, not what people say they have done.


      • No criticism meant for using the photo. I saw it as a young man coming to pay his respects and it can’t have been easy. I didn’t think the family were thugs, but I did wonder what the point of that photo was originally.


  2. What a tragedy! Prayers and peace to his family and friends. God rest his soul.


  3. Prayers to the victims families. May God’s grace & mercy comfort them.

    I hope the families sue Massey to their knees. Will Massey be held accountable for the death of 29 people? Miners have to be protected. Shut the mine down until it happens.


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