The sounds of horns and cheers filled the air as thousands gathered along US 25E in support of the coal industry. Hands of Coal across Bell County was one of the largest coal rallies ever in the county.
“I was very pleased with the whole day,” said event organizer Joe Harris.
The weather was perfect for the event. The sky was clear and the temperature was pleasant. “The day was like a blessing from God,” said Harris.
Harris said even though many have been down because of the loss of jobs in the coal industry, Saturday was a time that uplifted many spirits.
During the prayer at 2:30 p.m., there were some cars that stopped in the road to pray along with everyone else. The prayer was given by Brian O’Brien over 106.3 The Big One.
According to the calculations of Bell County Judge Executive Albey Brock, there were over 5,000 people at the event from the Knox County line to the tunnel. Brock used the term “humbling” to describe the event.
Among those people were several coal miners and former coal miners. One individual present was Wayne Partin, a coal miner of 27 years. Partin stated that he hopes the rally has an impact of the coal industry.
“(Coal) is the main source of life in this country for us. It doesn’t make much sense what the (EPA) are doing to us,” said Partin.
Carl Whitehead, who drives a coal truck, hopes that the rally will help get the coal industry “back to rolling”. Many members of Whitehead’s family are coal miners.
“There is people suffering,” said Whitehead about the lose of jobs in the coal industry.
Middlesboro mayor Bill Kelley attended this event in full support. “The city of Middlesboro doesn’t mine the coal here in the city, but there are many businesses here that depend on coal,” said Kelley. “This is what makes the industry so valuable. It’s not just the coal miners, but all businesses in this part of the country are taking a major hit.”
“The greatest part about it is that it stayed non-political. I hope this makes it to Washington, D.C. because they need to hear from us,” said Kelley.
The manager of Middlesboro Mall, Charles Burchfield also showed his support at the event. “Coal is the largest industry in this area,” said Burchfield. “Without our coal miners being able to work and some of these restrictions being eased, our area is really going to suffer. Coal has been a major part of life in southeast Kentucky as long as I can remember, and it’s really in jeopardy right now.”
Shawn Rigby, whom is the safety director for US Coal, states, “people don’t understand that every job lost in the coal industry is a family that lost their income as well. The support of coal mining means the future for our country.”
The concern for the coal industry continues to grow. Harris said he has received several calls from Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell about the event. He has also been contacted by the National Mining Association.
Several surrounding areas has also contacted Harris to help with their own coal rallies. Those areas include Pikeville and Jonesville, Va.
“(Coal rallies) are spreading across the region,” said Harris.