Radical Hope: Re-Contextualizing Oral Histories from Deindustrialized Mining Communities

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The anthracite coal mining landscape of northeastern Pennsylvania is in ruin, a by-product of two centuries of unchecked capitalism. Much of the land is stripped of its timber and surface mines lay abandoned. The industry began its decline after WWI and virtually collapsed during the post-WWII era. Waste piles of coal litter the landscape, and the streams and rivers are considered dead because of the minerals and high acid content of water draining from abandoned mines. Many scholars have written about the extreme work conditions the coal workers faced, the demise of the coal industry, and the impact of deindustrialization on the region’s people. Often overlooked is how members of the mining communities had a radical hope. Radical hope helps oppressed people to see that another condition and another world is possible, although not guaranteed. Re-examining oral histories from the anthracite region recorded in the 1970s, when the industry was in its great decline, demonstrates how these mining communities anticipated a future good, understanding the struggle to attain it.