In 1883, the first carload of coal was transported from Tazewell County, Virginia, on the Norfolk and Western Railway. The railroad opened a gateway to the untouched coal beds of West Virginia. Towns were created as the region was transformed from an agricultural to industrial economy.(West Virginia Mine Wars) The lure of good wages and housing made the coal mining appealing to West Virginians, but all good things come at a price. In the novel Storming Heaven, Denise Giardina gives us an inside look at what really happened to the small town of Annedel, West Virginia. Whether the four characters that tell the story are fictional or based in part on actual events that took place, it hits home considering where we live. The story is based on four different perspectives of four citizens struggling to survive under the reign of a powerful coal company. I am sure anyone from this area has had a family or knows of someone who has worked in the mines. If you sit down and talk to these older people who worked in the mines they all have compelling tales of events that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Although each character delivers their powerful and moving account, I would like to focus on one individual and his struggle to organize the miners. Rondal Lloyd struggled most of his life, he knew the coal mines first hand when he had to leave school to help his dad work in the mines to pay off debt to the company store. Unfortunately, this was common back in the times that this story is based upon. In West Virginia as far back as 1901 there are archives that have tried to set some sort of standards for child labor, but we must remember that these children grew up hard and fast. (West Virginia Mine Wars) They worked on the family farms and knew an honest day’s work at an early age. Rondal struggles to make a choice to educate himself or stick with the mining and try to help his fellow miner by trying to organize some sort of miner’s organization for fair safe labor and wages. Miners are a close knit group, still to this day they look out for each other and take care of each other’s families. Rondal knows an outsider cannot help them because they will not trust someone who is not their kind. “If I go, I’ll be gone for years. When I come back things won’t be the same. I won’t be the same. Folks will treat me different… Hit’s coal miners will bring the union in here. If I aint of em, how can I help?” (Giardina 71).
Rondal now understands he must stay and organize the miners if they are to have a fighting chance to provide for their families. In order for us to understand what an uphill battle Rondal is about to endure we as the reader must be informed about the negligence and injustices committed by the coal companies against their workers. It wasn’t bad enough that they treated their paid employees so poorly, but if they even got wind of a miner trying to organize against the company there where harsh crimes imposed...