Imagine that you are black and living in a small, tight-knit neighborhood near an old coal mine where about 4 or 5 families have inhabited a group of 25-30 houses for the better part of the last 75 years. Imagine that the city surrounding you was growing and expanding its municipal services. For the last 50 of those 75 years, clean running water has been extended to all of the neighbors surrounding you. While you asked – BEGGED – to be hooked into the new lines, you were denied. Meanwhile, the more expensive, more white, developments get annexed into the city with water lines are run to their door…just out of your reach.
Imagine having well water that is so contaminated from the old coal mine that it’s not safe to ingest. Imagine loading your pick up with empty milk jugs from your neighbors and friends every time you went to town so you could fill them with clean water from the waterworks or the spigot at the cemetery. Later you get a pool liner to line the bed of your truck. Eventually, you find someone to bring a tanker to fill cisterns to have decent water to use. It isn’t cheap and cisterns aren’t ideal with stagnant water and wildlife finding the way in.
Imagine flushing your toilet once per day to conserve the water you do have.
Imagine taking one bath per week. Dad first, then mom, then kids oldest to youngest.
Imagine watching your white neighbor across the street watering the lawn with fresh, clean, city water.
Reparations are needed.
Such was life in rural West Virginia in the 1940s, right? Wait…WHAT DID YOU SAY?
Here is a Christian Science Monitor blog post from July 11, 2008, that outlines the story of the community of Coal Run and the lawsuit that was eventually won by the residents.
In 2018, I was able to attend a re-enactment of this trial which was part of a Civil Rights continuing education class. Some of the residents of Coal Run were in attendance at the class to watch. It was powerful. Emotional. Eye-opening. There were tears. The residents received a standing ovation, handshakes, and hugs from those of us that were watching.
I had a somber realization that day though. No matter how much we dialogue, discern, and provide space for conversation - all of which is vital - it appears that we are still at a place in America where legislation is the only way that we can truly get justice. I pray that we become better.