Southern West Virginia is rich in historical value. From the infamous Hatfield-McCoy Feud to the Matewan Massacre to the area’s significant role in the West Virginia Mine Wars, this region has a past that could draw in any history buff.
In 2013, a group of volunteers began planning the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. The group was a diverse one, says Kenzie New-Walker, Executive Director of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. “It was a diverse group of folks who opened this museum: a historian, coal miner, descendants, an architect, a writer, a community organizer, and more,” she says. The group planned the museum for 2 years before it finally opened in 2015. Since then, they’ve moved into a larger, union-owned building, located in Matewan, West Virginia.
Sharing Important Local History
The museum spotlights an important piece of West Virginian (and American) history: the West Virginia Mine Wars, in which coal miners from across the state fought for better work conditions, the right to buy and trade where they pleased, and for recognition of the United Mine Workers Association, or UMWA. These fights often became physical altercations, and in 1920 tensions between miners and agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency led to the Battle of Matewan. Kenzie describes the museum as “telling the people’s history of the WV Mine Wars.” It features multiple exhibits, as well as an art gallery, community archives, and has room to grow.
Empowering the Community
The volunteers who made the museum possible wanted to share a mostly-unknown history and empower the community. “I think the biggest goal is to share an untold history with the world, and to empower community members and their descendents to tell their own narratives,” Kenzie says. “We do this in a variety of ways: educational programming, preservation activities, and our exhibits, as well as special events.”
For Kenzie, being able to work with a variety of folks from all around the community is the best part of her job. “Our team, our museum members, visitors, and our network of partners .There’s something magical about having a group of people excited to share their stories and take part in promoting this history,” she says. Kenzie adds she loves when visitors come in and say ‘I’m so glad something like this exists.’”
The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is located at 401 Mate Street, Matewan, West Virginia. According to their Facebook page, they are now booking private tours on Fridays and Saturdays by appointment only. To book your appointment send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos from West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.