Coal Mining Hits the Books
Coal mines once proliferated in Illinois. Countless families in the area had fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, etc., who worked in the mines. Some may have been maimed or killed on the job, while many others contracted black lung disease. Both of my grandfathers died from black lung. Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times reporter Chris Hamby retells how a grassroots effort led to legislation compensating miners and their families for the ravages of black lung—and how that promise has been eroded over the years—in Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia. Although his book centers on Appalachia, it will still resonate with miners and their families in the Illinois coal fields. Another important episode in coal mining history unfolds in Mark Bradley’s Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America. In the early hours of New Year’s Eve 1969, Joseph Yablonski and his wife and daughter were murdered in their home. Yablonski had previously announced his campaign to oust Tony Boyle as president of the UMWA. These murders triggered an intense FBI investigation and led to the first successful rank-and-file takeover of a major labor union in modern U.S. history. Bradley, a former Department of Justice and criminal defense attorney, tells the story with deftness and expertise.