Teen Corner: Harlan County’s proud history includes grit, courage and family

Published 10:35 am Friday, January 26, 2024

By Kaitlyn Daniels

Guest Columnist

What does it mean to be a Harlan Countian? It’s a place where the mountains are high, the valleys are low, and the coal runs deep. Almost every soul in the county has some form of connection to coal — whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, or friend. Coal is the first thing people think of when they hear the words “Harlan County,” but there is so much more to the roots of this small town thousands call home.

The reputation of Harlan was born in the 1930s when the coal industry was booming — the population was nearly 75,000 during this time. Families from all over arrived to get a fresh start, but what was a new beginning soon became a divided land. The miners negotiated with the coal companies for better working conditions, higher pay and a place in the union. After the companies refused to listen to the miners’ demands, 180 miners stepped off of the job and went on a 13-month-long strike. The strike eventually led to Harlan’s nickname of “Bloody Harlan.” The miners put up a fight for what they believed was right. Their determination is truly remarkable. The protest these miners and their families put up went further than anyone could have imagined, and it resulted in them getting exactly what they wanted. Things were said, shots were fired, and lives were lost in the battle for better working lives for these miners.

With all this being said, none of these events could have occurred without the grit from the miners as well as the support from their families. Harlan always comes together in its time of need to help one another. We have individuals, churches and communities who go above and beyond when needed. In times of disaster, like two years ago when the devastating tornadoes struck western Kentucky, individuals from our county traveled to help clean up the mess that was left behind. Again, last year, when the floods struck Letcher County and wiped out small towns just like ours, our county stepped up and traveled back and forth for weeks, taking needed supplies. We raised money, made food and gathered plenty of donations to help out our neighboring county.

Harlan County may be in the bottom of the state with the reputation for trouble and rednecks, but Harlan has a lot to offer. It has the mountains that change color when fall comes around. It has the dirt roads that you can ride on for miles. It has the cliffs that you can sit on to watch the sunrises and sunsets. It has the game for hunting and the boutiques for shopping. It has the festivals and carnivals for entertainment, but most importantly it has the family that has your back through thick or thin.

So while the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear “Harlan” may be coal, the first thing that comes to my mind is village. Harlan Countians have grit and courage. We are willing to give our all at any given time. Harlan County is a village that was created by the miners all those years ago. This is what it means to be a Harlan Countian.

Kaitlyn Daniels is a junior at Harlan County High School.