By Edward Peeks
February 27, 1969
"No law, no work," hundreds of striking miners told Gov. Arch Moore, who was interrupted Wednesday as he spoke from the steps of the Capitol.
The miners marched on the Capitol after a rally attended by about 2,000 in Municipal Auditorium, where more than half a dozen speakers discussed proposed legislation to cover black lung disease under workmen's compensation.
Moore spoke to the march group, as he did earlier to about 20 representatives of the West Virginia Black Lung Assn., sponsor of the march and rally.
He was interrupted by miners when he said that a bill to cover the disease would be the first order of business in the July legislature if efforts failed to pass a law during the current session.
"No," a group of miners said. Others joined the chorus in the crown, "We want it now. If we don't get it now we won't work."
Moore went on to explain that he could extend the present session for only three days to deal with budget matters.
He reminded them that he was on record for a law to cover black lu7ng, having asked the legislature to pass such a law. "My concern is just as paramount as yours," he said.
Miners have a right to strike and to petition their government, Moore noted, but their families would need things that wouldn't be supplied "as a result of your not working."
A few jeers emerged amidst applause when the Governor appeared to speak to the group. When he finished, there was scattered applause.
The response was in contrast to the rally where individual speakers drew lusty applause and standing ovations.
They included Rep. Ken Hechler, Dr. I. E. Buff of Charleston, Dr. Donald Rasmussen of Beckley and Dr. Hawey A. Wells of Morgantown, all members of the Physicians for Miners Health and Safety Committee, and former State Sen. Paul Kaufman, lawyer for the black lung group.
"The greatest heroes are you coal miners who have taken your future in your hands and said: 'No longer are we going to live and work and die like animals,'" declared Hechler.
He made a $1,000 cash gift to the association as "an indication that I case." He pledged to continue working for stronger laws for miners health and safety at the national level.
"The national searchlight is on West Virginia," Hechler said. "I can report to you that the hopes and prayers of many people throughout this land are with you."
Kaufman said the association supported Senate Bill 216 sponsored by Sen. W. T. Brotherton, D- Kanawha, and Sen. Robert Holliday, D-Fayette, and House Bill 814 sponsored by Del. Robert Nelson, D-Cabell.
These bills cover black lung and other respiratory diseases, Kaufman said. They contain a "presumption clause" for disability by virtue of the fact that a man worked a certain number of years in the mines, it is presumed that he contracted black lung or some other respiratory disease. X-ray evidence wouldn't be required.
Other major features call for the establishment of a clinic for miners in Charleston and a single medical board to administer the law, instead of two boards to include the present silicosis board as proposed by other bills.
Kaufman said legislators were offering a new bill combining features of the others. "We will take a new bill so long as it looks like an old bill," he said.
Dr. Buff joked, "Coal operators want to give me a gravestone made out of coal if they can use it right away."
He made the observation after noting that individual miners have given him a license plate made of coal and an ashtray. "I can't use it because I don't believe in smoking," he said of the ashtray.
Dr. Rasmussen said legislators "underestimated what miners have between the ears" when lawmakers charge that VISTA workers are behind the work stoppage of about 30,00 miners across the state in support of black lung legislation.
Miners who backed the doctor's statement were Elmer Brown of Delbarton, Mingo County, Elijah Wofford of Morgantown, Joe Malay of Rainelle, William Howard of Moundsville, Ray Stull of Clifftop and Othenel Bennington of Raleigh County.
Dr. Wells, moderator at the rally, prayed toward the close of the meeting for better health and safety laws in mines, asking "God to keep the fire burning in our hearts until we can prevent things that cause explosions."
About 1,00 miners marched from the auditorium to the Capitol. They carried placards which read, "No law, no work." "No law, no coals."
The marchers included several wives and widows of miners.
Mrs. Lymon Calhoun of Gallagher marched with her husband and son, James.
Mrs. James Hall of Gallagher said her 46-year-old husband is disabled, but "doctors tell him it's all in his mind."
Mark Legg, eight-year-old son of miner Charles Legg of Raleigh County, carried a placard reading, "My daddy is a coal miner. He need's [sic] protection["]