Below is my latest column that appeared in the Pittston Sunday Dispatch on November 2, 2008. If you are interested in the Coal Miner Postage Stamp I have petitions at my office, please email me DocLeonardi@mac.com for more information. Joe
By Joe Leonardi
“Coal Miner Mentality” is a phrase that is boorishly bandied about to describe many here in Greater Pittston and to a larger extent all of us who reside in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Along with hard scrabble and coal cracker, this terminology is not meant to compliment, congratulate or commend.
It is most often intended to demean, deride or dismiss the good people of, as Steve Corbett extols, “Hard Coal Country.” How little those outside of the anthracite arena know the offspring of the miners whose labor fueled the industrial revolution.
My grandfather was an owner/operator of a few mines here in the valley.
Unfortunately for my bank account he was not a coal baron. However, fortunately for my character he was a coal man.
We, all of us, are the heirs to the throne of king coal – we are the ones responsible to maintain the legacy of those who took from the ground the hard black carbon.
Yet, inexplicably, many look down upon us and our ancestors.
How is it anything less than an honor to be descended from those who sacrificed so much, but were recognized by so few?
How can we not revere those that left the sunlight behind and ventured below the earth’s surface to bring forth the precious anthracite?
How can those whose lives, by comparison are easy and risk free – not swell with pride when we recall the men who risked not solely simply injury, but often instant death or worse the slow, suffocating strangulation of black lung to provide a home and life for their families.
The coal miner was not formally schooled, he was educated by the cold realities of a harsh dark world.
The coal miner was not selfish, he did without, so his children would not need to inhale cancer causing coal dust.
The coal miner was not weak, through the strength of his spine he provided food for his family.
When I think of a coal miner, I see a strong hardworking individual. One who came to this area looking to improve not his life, but the lives of his children. I see individuals of deep faith, honesty and integrity.
When I teach a class and look upon the faces of my students, I see the realization of the dreams of those miners who so long ago shortened their own lives so my generation and the following ones, would not have to.
There is a movement afoot to prod the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp honoring the coal miner. This effort has gone on for many years with zero success.
This is an initiative that yearns for our support.
I say we wear with pride the badge of honor our coal miner roots inspire. We must look to the terms coal miner mentality, coal cracker and hard scrabble and take them back.
We must, with pride – own them.
I demand we proclaim; “We are the children of coal!”