Document Type

Master's Thesis

Graduation Year

May 2022



Degree Name

Master of Arts

Program Name


Program Director

Judy Halebsky, PhD

First Reader

Jordan Lieser, PhD

Second Reader

Laura Stivers, PhD


In 1915 two Black businessmen, Archie McKinney and Matthew Buster, secured the purchase and operation of Eagle Coal Company Inc. in Montgomery, West Virginia. A Black-owned coal company operated and existed in southwestern West Virginia. Eagle Coal has all but disappeared, even from historical memory. What exactly happened to this coal company remains very much a mystery and is a poignant image that represents the mystery that surrounds the Black experience in Appalachia. In the face of “social injustice, racial violence, disfranchisement, and the intensification of the segregationist system,” Black Americans set out from the South in search of better jobs and better wages.[1] A faction of this group would settle in the Appalachian coal mining industry and invest in settling into the area long term by building Black communities. Their attempts to create Black wealth would come in various forms, such as schools, newspapers, shops, and, in Montgomery’s case, even a coal company; however, these initiatives appear as a blip in the Progressive Era of American History. This has led to a dominantly white image of Appalachia both during its economic success and impoverished downfall. To understand how areas like Montgomery, Keystone, and McDowell County were successful in building Black culture and Black community is to follow the migration of Black labor to West Virginia, examine Black experience and Black existence in West Virginia from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and observe patterns of Black progression in densely black populated West Virginia areas. Through the investigation of Black experience and Black existence in these West Virginia areas, I share how Black Appalachia existed alongside White Appalachia, playing a foundational role to West Virginia’s development.

[1] Joe Trotter and Earl Lewis, African Americans in the Industrial Age (Boston: Northeastern University Press 1996).

Black Hillbilly - SBlunk.pdf (676 kB)
Publicly Available Sample