Barbara Angle - working in the mine
Carol Jean Niland: Were you afraid of getting Black Lung?
Barbara Angle: Well, you’re always aware that there’s that possibility but when it comes to a choice between your family and yourself, most people would choose their family. You put in your hours and try not to dwell on that to much because that’s an unnecessary job hazard that miners face. In Great Britain they have eliminated Black Lung and it’s primarily because of their concern for the British miners’ health and safety. Over here it’s still “get that coal,” and they put the men’s welfare behind production. They want that coal and if someone’s got to go under to get it, be it Black Lung or whatever, so be it. The only way a man can get Black Lung benefits in this country is an autopsy and frankly an autopsy doesn’t do the poor son-of-a-bitch that has Black Lung much good.
CJ: How did you feel when you were called to the mines? I mean, were you excited or what?
BA: I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean, coal mines...you could have told me I was going caving, that I was going surfing. I didn’t know. When we went up to training, the guys I was training with, they come from mining families and they know all these terms. I mean, “brattice,” “shuttle car,”...they know what they’re talkin’ about and you just sit there and try to look intelligent. They ask you if you want a “chew” and you say, “No. That’s not my brand.” You don’t know what you’re gettin’ into.
God knows, I’ve been around in the world but I wasn’t. I had twelve years of Catholic school. I was one of the last American virgins at 22. I had no idea when I went in there that I was going to face that kind of sexual harassment and I didn’t know how to deal with it when I did. You gotta roll with it. It’s these guys” way, you know. They call Polish “polacs,” Spaniards “Spics” and Negro is a “nigger” and a woman...the nicest word is “puss”. And there are worse.
CJ: That’s for sure. How did your brothers feel about you going in the mines?
BA: My parents are both deceased. I couldn’t have gone in the mines if my parents have been alive. My Father was very protective of his woman-folk. When I was in college I had a chance to get a sky-diving job. Mrs. Santa Claus at the local mall. He didn’t want me throwing myself out of a plane at 5,000 feet, I was told if I ever saw a guy in a black leather jacket to go lock myself in a closet. It was this type thing. So I’m sure mining wouldn’t have gone down very well.
Well, my one brother, he’s college educated and he went underground. At first he was kind of encouraging then he got negative saying, “You know, these guys if they gotta take a piss, they’re gonna pull it out and do it. You’re standing there, you’re standin’ there.” He got so he pulled away. At first he was supportive, then he kinda pulled away. My other brother, we’d both always been in the outer limits I guess you’d say so he kinda understood where I was coming from, that I’d try anything and this was the one chance for me to come back independently on my own because of the money they offered. He was a little surprised when I pulled the baby out of the hat but he took the rest pretty good.
CJ: Okay. What kind of dress did you wear in there?
BA: Dress? Come on Carol, you didn’t wear a dress.
CJ: Well, I mean…
BA: You learned quickly that many layers did better than one solid layer. You wore black underwear and it wasn’t for sex appeal. It was because black didn’t show the dirt. And believe me, the dirt went through every layer and it would hit your underwear. And over that you wore a not-so-sexy pair of long-Johns with a flap in back in facilitate to any hygienic necessities that might come along the way. Over that I wore bib overalls, a hunting coat and one of those pull-over sweatshirts with a hood in back to cut the wind on the intake. It varied from guy to guy. Every guy found his most comfortable element.
Barbara Angle and Carol Jean Niland
Barbara Angle died in 2011. More on her life and writings can be found at Barbara Angle, Allegany County Women.
Gary Angle, Barbara's brother, gave permission for this interview to be made available.
The photograph is of a woman miner, and is from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History website. It is originally came from the Charlestown Gazette.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980