The Road to Annual: Thursday, June 6


Buffalo Creek Memorial Library welcomes ALA.

“If we don't have the answer, we’ll find someone who does,” says Elizabeth Tackett, former director of the Buffalo Creek Memorial Library. “If we can’t solve the problem, we’ll figure out who can.” That’s the spirit of coal country. “Everyone here is family,” director Eddie Tackett tells us.


View from the ridge above Man, West Virginia.

700 people live in Man and roughly 15,000 in the surrounding area. The library is “the beating heart” of this community, board president Gretchen Donahue tells us. Area children flock to the building for story time and Tunes for Tots while adults use the library to access the internet, write resumes, and check out books from a growing large print collection. Angel Harris, principal at South Man Grade School, says the library is crucial for early literacy in Man. “We have to get them young,” she says, “if we want them to stay readers.” During summers, the library offers free lunch to students in the area, feeding both brains and bellies. Other community partnerships include group walks for adults and youth, a breast cancer research fundraiser, Christmas giveaways (Elizabeth Tackett plays the Grinch), and distributions of Covid tests, Naloxone, and drug test strips that support the health of the community. The library strives to meet the needs of everyone in Man.

In one corner of the library sit shelves of books about Man, Logan and Mingo counties, and Buffalo Creek. “They know not to mess with these shelves,” says Elizabeth. She is protective of this local history collection for good reason. In 1972, just a year before West Virginia’s first instant library arrived in Man, three makeshift dams managed by the Pittston Coal Company broke just days after being certified as safe by a federal mine inspector. “It was thirty feet of water,” survivor and Buffalo Creek Memorial Library board member Missy McCoy told us. 125 people died in the disaster and the entire community was impacted. In addition to its collection, the library serves as a place where people can come together each anniversary to commemorate the loss and continue to rebuild.


From left: Elizabeth Tackett, Mackenzie New Walker, Emily Drabinski, Thomas Jude.

We were joined by Mackenzie New Walker and Thomas Jude of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. The museum tells the story of coal mine workers who came together to fight for their rights in the early part of the 20th century in the face of unsafe working conditions and exploitation. This history had been largely missing from her education in coal country, Walker told us. “It matters who gets to tell our stories.” Institutions like the museum and the library are essential to ensuring that the history of coal country is preserved and shared with the people who made it. Walker and Jude brought souvenirs for all of us. The red bandanas are modeled after those carried by miners into the battle of Blair Mountain, the original “rednecks.”

Man’s mayor, John Fekete, also sat for an interview. He’s a huge supporter of the library, seeing it as essential civic infrastructure for the community, especially as the economy of the area continues to change in the shift away from coal. “We dug the coal that fired the steel that built the planes that won the war,” he says. “And I want to see that we get what we deserve for that.” That means high quality water, sewer, and electricity infrastructure as well as cell service and broadband internet, two essentials that for some community members are only available in the library.


Mayor John Fekete takes the team on a trail ride

In addition to his role as mayor, Fekete serves as Vice President of the board of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, a paradise for ATV riders. A few hours later he has us in his side-by-side, roaring up to the top of the mountain, emerald green ridgelines as far as we can see. It’s a kind of paradise, Fekete says. From up here, it’s not hard to agree.

Mileage: 0

Soundtrack: Revving ATVs, waterfall

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