In college, I went on a date with the son of my mother’s coworker. I couldn’t remember if his name was Jason or Justin, so I spent the entire night maneuvering my way out of saying his name. He... [+]
“What are you doing? Get back to work!” one of the overseers yelled, whipping me back into reality. The sting of a red hot pain filled my back. “Keep that up and you’ll be working all night.” He walked away, clutching the whip in his hand; watching the rest of the miners with his cold, unfeeling stare. That stare could cut diamonds, if there were any in the mine. I grabbed my pickaxe and patted my pockets to make sure neither my pencil nor pad had left my person.
“What were you thinking about?” a calm voice nudges me with. I looked over to see my one and only comrade, Jasper staring at me as he worked alongside me. He was a tall, scrawny man with long blonde hair tied in a bun, and blue overalls with a brown shirt underneath.
“Oh, uh, nothing,” I mumbled back
“C’mon it has to have been worth it if you got whipped for it.”
“I was... I was thinking about the time before the mining.’”
“Well what exactly?”
“Don’t entertain his fantasies!” Another voices barges in. The voice belongs to Hitchcock, a rough cynic with the same outfit as Jasper, but he had a smaller more rotund body and short black hair. “He’ll get the dangerous idea that he’s more than just a miner.” He slammed his pickaxe into the rocks to emphasize his point. “Best to just keep your head down and work.”
“Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know anything,” Jasper turned to me and consoled
“Thank you” I replied unsurely, turning back to a rock wall and continued to slam my pick into it again and again and again. I stared at that wall all day, pounding and pounding away at rock. After I was done I went to the barracks and laid in bed.
I didn’t sleep at all that night, and if I did I don’t remember. The next morning came before I could realize the other had ended. I got up from my bed and put on my tattered and torn uniform. A brown shirt made from burlap, blue overalls that had turned brown from the dust, and torn up beige shoes with no socks. I had my pickaxe in hand and out a pencil and pad in my pocket. I left to go and stare at rocks for the day. Little did I know that day I would stare at something... different. I apologize, I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry it’s hard not to think about better days. Anyways, I stepped out of the cold brick room of the barracks and into the sweaty dirt shafts of the mines. Holding my pickaxe in hand I found my way to the end of Tunnel 23 and began again the daily ritual of digging my pickaxe into the earth.
“Everyone! Listen up!” an overseer commanded, standing in the middle of the mine. “There will be a new rule, effective immediately! Any miner who has not found and brought a piece of coal to me will not be allowed to leave this tunnel!” the shaft filled with shock and uncertainty from the miners. “Do not complain! You are miners, you will mine until you find something. That it all is all. Get back to work!” the overseer turned and started to walk away and I started to turn to the rock wall. Before the overseer could get far, a miner punched him square across the jaw. Before I knew it the miners had swapped their picks in favor of fists. The overseer fell to the floor and he cried out “Code 13-17!” down the passage. Miners crowded around the overseer, and down the tunnel soldiers stomped down the shaft to see what was happening. In an instant a full blown riot had emerged in Tunnel 23.
Miners and soldiers clashed in the middle of the tunnel. Over filled with people, weapons, and rocks. Workers and soldiers alike hit the rock floor hard as picks striking into the dirt. I stood shocked and horrified by the scene in front of me. Jasper stood next to me equally or even more terrified than me. We both stood still unable to move through our shock and terror. Hitchcock however moved fine, walking calmly up to us and stared blankly, seemingly unable to process what was happening. All three of us in total awe at the sea of men, dust, and yells. Then out of nowhere a worker came falling backwards, crashing into Jasper and knocking him into the hard ground. I turned and saw him decked out on the floor. Before I could react I would have the same fate. I tumbled down, hitting the floor and feeling a surge of pain shoot from my head to the rest of my body. I sat up quickly after the man hoisted himself off of me. The world was dizzy and once I caught my baringings I saw Hitchcock. This time, a missed swing from a fellow miner had found its way to Hitchcock dropping him to the floor. In that instant I felt no fear anymore. I was filled with something different, a drive. I stood up and wobbled for a second, I caught myself and continued onward.
I pushed my into the crowd, I dragged and hauled myself into the center of the chaos using my new found drive to push me. I didn’t know what I was going to do but this feeling drove me onwards. I came to a stop in the middle, between the guards and the workers. This feeling welling up inside of me, just wanting to get out. The feeling being a culmination of everything that had happened to me. I shouldn’t have said what I said but I was tired, dirty, and in need of break. I let out the loudest voice I could muster.
“Stop! Stop it! Stop it all of you!” Some men stopped and turned but a majority continued, “I SAID STOP IT!” Everyone stopped dead in their tracks and faced me. “Stop it! Everyone!” the feeling made me say. “Soldiers! We are people, stop oppressing us! Miners! Fighting is not the answer to oppression. All of you. Stop this needless brutality!” I stood there in the middle of it all out of breath from the yelling. Yet the feeling did not subside, it held on strong. The tunnel fell silent and I stood there, in the center with all eyes on me. Everyone shocked at my outburst. The next thing I knew I was hit and the world going dark. I awoke inside a cold, dark cell on a wooden bench surrounded by more rock walls with metal bars blocking the exit.
This is where my story ends, I sit here tired, dirty and in need of a break. I write this with my pencil in pad for whatever reason, I don’t know myself, maybe to pass the time. All I know is that the unknown feeling still drives me. I still feel it, after days and days of sitting on this bench. Doing nothing but staring at metal bars, writing, and sleeping. I don’t know how long it’s been or what has happened. The only thing that for certain is this feeling. What is it? I don’t know. You tell me. I’ll just sit here and wait.
This was the story of one Emmet Robinson, a miner of the then enslaved Black Eagle Coal Mine. His story was found on a notepad by researchers. It describes the work conditions the Kaslin people were working in and one of the revolts inside the mine. The mine was liberated and researchers investigated the mine. Emmet never did see the outside world again, but his story lives on.