Racist mine boss remembered

February 6, 2018

From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters

Morgantown, W.Va.—His name was Scoots Riley, a big Black man who was a close friend when we both worked as coal miners during the 1950s and the best man at my wedding. There was a boss in that section of the coal mine who was notorious for his prejudice and his special hatred of Scoots—a hatred for one another that was shared, as were their Irish last names. Scoots’ last name was Riley, and the racist boss’s last name was O’Hara.

Every year, Scoots sent O’Hara a card with the inscription, “From one Irishman to another.” The boss always let out a string of curses, which told all the miners in his section that O’Hara had received the card. That produced much joy and derisive laughter among the men.

Scoots was a snapper. He had to catch cars and hook them together. One of the tell-tale signs of snappers was that they had fingers missing. Scoots was the exception, and somehow kept all his fingers. But in his early thirties he contracted black lung disease.

—Andy Phillips

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