‘They’ll never keep us down’

Published 5:25 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sunday, my daughter and I toured Harlan County.

Reminded us a lot of home, West Virginia with its hills, small town atmosphere, school spirit and coal mines of course.

As we were driving over top of a mountain and into Harlan, Hazel Dickens’ song “They’ll Never Keep Us Down” started playing on the radio — good song, very good song.

Better song is Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “Sixteen Tons” — “You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Yep. You don’t have to work in a coal mine to appreciate those lyrics.

We found Harlan a welcoming place. Folks said hello. Downtown has its charms. Harlan schools have a sense of pride that is often lacking in major metropolitan schools that are too big to teach, educate… which may explain part of the problem these days.

Saw over the front door that Harlan Independent has been teaching kids since 1909 I think. That’s something, it really is. Strong schools provide a sense of place for the community to rally behind, to bring folks who have moved away, but still cherish the hills.

Our family has been writing about mining communities for many years where there is a strong sense of community, neighbors help neighbors.

My daughter was shocked by the number of names of folks who are engraved into a monument downtown by the courthouse who were killed in mining accidents. She knows full well that being a coal miner is dangerous work, but seeing all those names sort of brought the point home. I said to her that someday mining will be like — should be like — most other jobs where you leave for work without having to worry whether you’ll come home safe and sound.

I believe there’s more to Harlan than mining. I sense that the people are good with a strong ethic, so I don’t see so much from the past as much as I do an optimistic future in the making.

If you’ll notice, the Harlan Enterprise is a little thicker this week, more news and more sports. We’ve got a long way to go, but I believe that given our commitment to journalism and embrace of the community, that we can build a better newspaper.

As such, I’m going to do something radical — provide my cell number (252) 302-1288 (who does that?); call if you have a story tip or just want to chat.

However, email works best because there are some days I can’t stand to answer my phone — so use this email address miles.layton@harlanenterprise.net and/or cc’ this email address” miles.layton@winchestersun.com

Maybe even reach out to me via Facebook — my photo is the guy wearing a white dress shirt who is standing up in the middle of a crowd. Never hesitate to reach out to let me know what you’re thinking and what stories you’d like to see in the newspaper.

Trust me when I say, the hills and hollows have shaped who I am, so I think you’ll find that the Harlan Enterprise will reflect those values.