Days Gone By - stories from the past

The faces in these 1937 photographs of Coal Miners in and around Birmingham, Alabama reflect the difficulty of their job

These coal miners from Birmingham and Walker County, Alabama had no idea that when they went to work one cold morning in February of 1937 that their pictures would be taken by photojournalists, Arthur Rothstein and preserved in the Library of Congress forever. I’m sure they were thinking of the drudgery in their day ahead. I wish we had the identity of these men.


Rothstein is recognized as one of America’s premier photojournalists. His career spanned five decades. He worked for the the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937.

The incentive for his February 1937 assignment came from the interest generated by congressional consideration of farm tenant legislation sponsored in the Senate by John H. Bankhead, a moderate Democrat from Alabama with a strong interest in agriculture. Enacted in July, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act gave the agency its new lease on life as the Farm Security Administration.

No names of the men were recorded, only their faces remain as they prepared for a hard day at work. Feel free to list names of the men you can identify in the Reply section at the bottom of this page. I’ve numbered the pictures to identify them.

1. Alabama coal miner, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama

Alabama coal miner, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama by Arthur Rothstein 1937

2. Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama by Arthur Rothstein 1937Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama by Arthur Rothstein 1937

3. Alabama coal miners, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama by Arthur Rothstein2 1937

4. Alabama coal miners, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama

Alabama coal miner, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama by Arthur Rothstein3 1937

5. Alabama coal miners, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, AlabamaAlabama coal miners, Bankhead Mines, Walker County, Alabama4 by Arthur Rothstein 1937

6. Coal miners, Birmingham, Alabama  Coal miners, Birmingham, Alabama 1937 Rothstein

7. Coal miners, Birmingham, Alabama Coal miners, Birmingham, Alabama2 1937 Rothstein

9. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama3 1937 Rothstein

10. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama5 rothstein 1937

11. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama6 rothstein 1937

12. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama7 Rothsten 1937

13. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama8 Rothsten 1937

14. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama9 1937 Rothstein

See books by Donna R. Causey

15. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama10 1937 Rothstein

16. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama11 1937 Rothstein

17. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama12 1937 Rothstein

18. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama13 1937 Rothstein

19. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama14 1937 Rothstein

20. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama15 1937 Rothstein

21. Coal miners’ homes. Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners' homes. Birmingham, Alabama Rothstein, 1937

22. Coal miners’ homes. Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners' homes. Birmingham, Alabama2 Rothstein 1937

23. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama16 1937 Rothstein

24. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama17 1937 Rothstein

25. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama18 1937 Rothstein

26. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama19 1937 Rothstein

27. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama20 1937 Rothstein

28. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama21 1937 Rothstein

29. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama22 1937 Rothstein

30. Coal miners, Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners, Birmingham, Alabama23 1937 Rothstein

31. Coal miners’ homes. Birmingham, Alabama Coal miners' homes. Birmingham, Alabama26 Rothstein 1937

32. Coal miners’ homes. Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners' homes. Birmingham, Alabama27 Rothstein 1937

33. Coal miners’ homes. Birmingham, AlabamaCoal miners' homes. Birmingham, Alabama28 Rothstein 1937

 

You can now give a gift of Amazon Prime  = click this link to learn how – Shop Amazon – Give the Gift of Amazon Prime

As family historian, do you have friends and family ask you how to get started in family research? This is a hard question to answer in a few minutes. Give them the book below which includes free resources online to help them get started in this fun hobby. Also available in paperback and makes a great Christmas gift!

WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with links to Free On-line resources

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!
Tags:

27 comments

  1. Donna — I have an item I want to send you but can’t find your address. HELP ! ! !
    Joe McKnight

  2. Sandra Culwell

    OPEN THIS AND LISTENA NDREAD

  3. Serena Williams

    Is there names on the photos?

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      Sadly no names were recorded with the photos

  4. My husbands family on both sides were coal miners in this area. They worked so hard to take care of their families and i consider them some of the most important people in this country because their hard work and sacrifice allowed our nation to flourish and grow!!!!

  5. Brett Page

    My Grandfather was a Coal Miner in Walker County during this time, but not sure which mines he worked at. I especially enjoyed looking at the pictures of the houses where they lived. My Mom has told me stories about growing up in these communities and the many hardships that they endured. We have it so good today compared to these hard working men and thier families, but many many thanks for thier hard work and sacrifices that they made.

  6. Judith Gresham Walker

    My uncle was a coal miner in this area. He came home black from coal dust.

  7. Dave Patterson

    My father was born in Straven Alabama coal mining town. No longer on the map.

    1. Can you tell me about Straven is? My grandfather was a miner there as well.

  8. Most of my uncles (Yates family) in the 40’s and 50’s were coal miners in Jefferson and Walker counties.

    1. Am writing autobiography. Lived in Palos, Jefferson County. Family, “The Treadwells. (Mack and Mary) Deceased. Mack Treadwell,, Sr. His sons Tom Greene, Mack Treadwell, Jr. all worked in the coal mines. I am trying to get a photo of the Shotgun houses we lived in on Praco Hill during the 50’s. I graduated from Praco High School. My sister Mary Treadwell graduated from West Jefferson High School.

      Addie L. Greene
      West Palm Beach, FL

      1. My dad, Jimmy Totherow, was born in Praco, AL in 1937 to Charley and Fannie Totherow. They lived there around 10 years or so, before they moved to Adger. He passed in 1996, I wonder if any of your folks recognize that name. Charley worked at ABC mine, I believe, there in Praco, behind the old commissary. I don’t know if we have any pictures of Praco Hill, but I believe that is the area where my dad was born.

  9. Enjoyed seeing photos of these hard working men. My grandfather was a coal miner in Etowah County and his father was in Dade County, GA.

  10. Mike Smith

    Thanks, reminds me of my grandfather. He came here from Virginia to work in the mines.

  11. Richard-Patricia Cornelius

    My grandfather came here from England to work the mines.

  12. Eddie Key

    I had uncles that worked to mines back in the day(1940’s 1960’s)

  13. My grandfather worked in the coal mines from the time he was a very young pre-teen until he was forced into retirement sometime in the 40’s or 50’s due to several back injuries during that time period. He eventually died as I understand from the disease ” black lung” or “brown lung” in 1971. I think I recognize him pictured with several other miners during the 1937 photo shoot in picture number 23. and number 25. I also remember seeing the white plank houses lined up on the street of Bay View mining camp like the ones that are photoed here in this article. Why can’t we find out more about the history of the miming camps and mining families that lived in and around this area during this decades that the mines were going so strong? I would like to know more about this history of the development of Birmingham and the surrounding areas of the mining communities and their families.

  14. My father, Alfred Calaway worked in the mines around Bradford, and Thermal, Alabama in 1938 – 1940. I don’t see Bradford or Thermal on the maps, anymore.

  15. My grand father, Willy Powell worked at Thermal Number 1&2. I’ve been looking for photos of those mines in Thermal, Alabama. He started as a mucker but was superintendent for two mines before he retired. Like many economic reality forced him off the farm and into the mines. Unlike most he did manage to finish a two year diploma course in mine engineering.

  16. My Dads family worked in Walker Co. mines at this time. Picture #15 looks like his uncle Otto McLain. I will check with family members. There was Otto, Mack, Therman, Will and Elijah McLain, they all worked in the mines. Other family members may be able to recognize some of them if they are pictured.

  17. We lived in the Black Diamond Coal Mining Camp in Jefferson County until I was in the 7th grade in 1962.My dad worked on the washer at Black Diamond. While I do not think I would want to live there now,I have nothing but fond memories. I just wish I had some pictures of the camp. It is all torn down now and the seam stripped.

  18. I am looking for pictures of the old black diamond mine and mining camp located in Jefferson County. Also any information and pictures on the Blue Creek Mine. I am working on a family reunion project and would love to have pictures to back up my research.

  19. Your pictures stirred memories of my father coming home with his clothes caked with the black dust. His stories of low ceilings he crawled through and only seeing the teeth and tongues of his ” brother miners” when they talked. My father worked at Mary Lee and several other mining camps
    I hope you have a way to sell copies of your pictures. I wish to hang them on a wall in my home to pay homage to our Birmingham and Alabama history.

    Thanks

  20. Mack mclain is my grandfather, my father Delbert mclain is the youngest of 5 sons, I’d very much appreciate any news on any of the brothers of Mack, esp. Pictures, I’ve only seen1 picture and it was him in his casket. Thank you and God bless

  21. Hello I was curious as to the coal mines in 1920. My grandfather Joe Tom Raper lived with his sister Mary Lou Pyles and her husband William in the 1920 census. He is listed as 25 yrs old, single and a coal miner. The Pyles family lived in Carbon Hill. My grandfather Joe Tom Raper died in 1962 in Evansville Indiana, he had black lung. Are there any rosters for the mine employees from that time? Any information or hints as where to look would be appreciated.
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.