DOCUMERICA: Jack Corn Captured Appalachian Realities

Throughout the 1970s he visited the Appalachian Mountains and photographed coal miner culture of West Virginia

According to the US National Archives, retired photojournalist and professor Jack Corn was just one of over 70 other photographers commissioned by the EPA to capture photos for the DOCUMERICA project. Spanning nationwide, this far-reaching series sought to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern.”

Throughout the 1970s, Corn repeatedly visited the Appalachian Mountains and captured both the intimate realities of Americans living there and their unique relationship to the environment. His expansive work included documenting the coal miner culture of West Virginia and the countless lives changed by unsafe working conditions, racial segregation, poverty and black lung disease.

For the last several weeks, BBG has been highlighting these striking photographs preserved with their original captions on our social media from Corn’s collection.

While highlighting some of the encircling plights of all West Virginians, his images and stories also spotlighted the often underrepresented perspective of Black West Virginians during that time period. In small towns where the railroad tracks cleave the population by race and dozens survive off of black lung restitutions, this collection excavates a vital slice of the state’s history.

View some of our selected works below, or view Jack Corn’s full DOCUMERICA archive here:

TOP: Levi Danials Is director of field services for the United Mine Workers of America at their district headquarters in Charleston, West Virginia. He was a leader in pushing for black lung benefits which ultimately led to the election of Arnold Miller as President of the UMW. April, 1974

Clarice Brown, 19, Is a secretary in the United Mine Workers field services office in Charleston, West Virginia. Her father was a miner who died of black lung disease, which causes shortage of breath as the lung sacs are filled with coal dust. April 1974

Edward Austin, 64, lives in the Black portion of Fireco, a small town near Beckley, West Virginia, in Raleigh County. He receives black lung benefits and a United Mine Workers pension, after working in the mines from 1925 to 1956. He has 20 children and does not regret having them one bit. April 1974

Mrs. Thaxton, 90, is a widow and mother of retired miners who live in Rhodell, West Virginia, near Beckley. Nurses in the outreach program from the Mountaineer Health Plan visit her and check her health. April 1974

Harvey Thaxton, 64, lives with his mother in Rhodell, West Virginia near Beckley. A retired miner, he used black lung money to buy whiskey and paint the wall in the picture red. He receives a monthly benefit in addition to a one-time black lung payment. The picture on the wall shows him in World War II uniform with his wife, now dead. April 1974

John Hoskin, Jr., an ex-miner with black lung disease, lives in Rhodell, West Virginia, near Beckley. He worked in the mines for 15 years; now he likes to sit on his porch and drink whiskey.

Martha Ann Crider comes from a coal mining family and is the wife of a retired miner living in Fireco, near Beckley, West Virginia. She Is president of the Mountaineer Family Health Plan. It Is Raleigh County’s only comprehensive health plan for 7,000 households with 16,000 people, of which 90 percent are coal related. She Is a bright, articulate woman who is at ease with the poor, the politicians and the press. It is a federal project funded for $3.2 million by H.E.W. May 1974

“Dora Darlene Hancock, daughter of Martha Crider, living in Fireco, West Virginia, near Beckley. Town is divided between Black and white populations by the railroad tracks. Dora walking up her street in a new dress on the way to a band concert at the local grade school. April 1974

Youngster returning to school after going home during recess to get an ice cream cone. The town of Chattaroy, West Virginia, near Williamson, is small enough so the youngsters can do this. Many of them also go home for lunch. The town has no industry, and most of the people survive on welfare, pensions, Social Security and black lung benefits. April 1974

Otis Saunders, in his late 80s, suns in front of his home in Fireco, near Beckley, West Virginia. Like most of the older men in the area, he Is a retired miner. Fireco was once a great mining town, but the region has been mined out. May 1974

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