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Maggie reflects on a recent visit to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

Dear Friends and Supporters,

John and I had a great time recently at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Ramps Dinner in Matewan. Some photos will give you an idea of what a nice event it was. 

On the first day, John and I drove to Thurmond to show it to our friend Tom Rea who joined us from Wyoming. Not much has changed. The buildings along the tracks are stabilized, windows intact and interiors empty. Elma’s is empty and more dilapidated each time we visit. The New River was running fast and high- far too high for a swimming actor. The foliage was that soft green of early Spring, with wild magnolias just coming into bloom and native dogwood blossoms floating in the green. And now Thurmond is a setting for prom pictures!

After a night in Beckley, we drove a meandering way to Matewan- the real Matewan. You can see a bit of the pretty table set for guests at the UMWA Local 1440 Hall, a place that has hosted so many meetings and meals. Local 1440 was once the second largest UMWA Local in the country. Now it has 800 members, most of them retired. Terry Steele and his wife Wilma are the backbone of 1440, a progressive local that works hard for its members and for Matewan. That town looks so much brighter and more hopeful than it did when we first visited it 35 years ago. It was Terry who inducted John Sayles into 1440 as an honorary member when we showed “Matewan” in Charleston last year. The night before we arrived in Matewan, 1440 had hosted a meeting where miners and a representative from the Sierra Club tried to get some truthful answers out of the coal company about the real prospect of mine jobs returning: don’t believe a word they say was pretty much what I heard.

The food was fantastic. Two kinds of ramps, one vegetarian and the other with bacon, and both delicious. A julienned potato and zucchini salad, braised cabbage, soup beans (with their liquor, for those of you who know the South), the best ham I ever had-cut thick-, cheese biscuits, wholemeal cornbread, cobbler and two kinds of pie with ice cream. The table was set as you can see with old mismatched dinner plates and azalea, which were just blooming in some places. We had musical accompaniment, guitar and banjo, from a very young musician who adopted Matewan when he was a teenager, and a local musician who has written many songs about the local history and miners’ struggles. Both were really good musicians.

We were welcomed by Cat Moore and Lou Martin, members of the Museum board. They thanked all of you for your support with the kickstarter- which exceeded its goal! They shared the exciting news that Local 1440 had bought the recently closed bank- and that the Mine Wars Museum will be moved into that bigger, more stable building by next Spring. They will be able to do so much more with more room, especially with the many, large student groups they have are welcoming to the Museum. Local 1440 went to the national HQ and received the $75,000 they needed to buy the bank, providing a space for the Museum, and when the renovation is complete, there will also be several rental apartments in an area where affordable, safe housing is at a minimum. Though the building had recently undergone a million dollar renovation, 1440 had to tap into their funds for a $12,000 upgrade to the fire safety system. Now the ballroom upstairs will be available for events- like screenings of “Matewan” when the Criterion Collection completes their work. Stay tuned for the release of the new blu-ray dvd by the end of 2019!

After we ate, we heard from the new Director of the Museum, Kenzie New. Smart, tiny, young, efficient, energetic, just out of college, and from just up the road. She is a great asset to the Museum. Her salary comes from a West Virginia Humanities grant. John spoke, I thanked everyone for their activism and resistance, and we all went outside for a walking tour of the history of the Matewan Massacre. This time we weren’t on a set. Cat Moore and Chuck Keeney took turns guiding us through the story with lots of background of what came before and important stories of what followed in the year before Blair Mountain happened. That strike went on for over two years. Then we piled into our cars and crossed the Tug Fork River into Kentucky onto the other side. There we visited the graves of Sid Hatfield and Cabell Testerman.

You all should feel assured that this history is in good hands – and our movie inspires these activists still.  I do hope someday you will be able to visit Matewan and the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.

Love and thanks to all of you,

Maggie

Photos by Maggie Renzi

One Response to “Maggie reflects on a recent visit to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum”

  1. Wilma Steele says:

    Thank you both for being such wonderful friends. We love you.
    Terry & Wilma Steele

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