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