A rally in support of coal is scheduled for this weekend in southeast Kentucky. It stemmed from a Facebook post, but now Bell County resident and business owner Joe Harris says he expects more than 20,000 people to line a county road Saturday in support of coal.
There were 1,300 coal miners working in Bell County in 2009, and an additional 1,700 in neighboring Harlan County. But since then, mining layoffs have eliminated some of those jobs. Harris is calling his event “Hands of Coal Across Bell County”—and he's inviting industry advocates to gather along 17 miles of U.S. 25E and join hands.
Harris says the event—dubbed “Hands of Coal Across Bell County” isn’t a protest, but just a show of support for the coal industry. He says the industry’s decline is affecting everyone in Bell County.
“Here in our small town, we’re closing stores a lot faster than we’re opening them,” he said. “Actually, we’re not opening any new stores at all. It’s all closing the stores. It looks like it’s going to come down to the fact that people are going to have to leave this area because of the impact it’s making on us.”
Harris says he would welcome other jobs to Bell County, but the community has no choice but to support the coal industry because it’s one of the few employers left in the region.
“If there was other industry here available, yes, I would think they would have no problems hiring workers here. But there’s just not,” he said. “Nobody’s invested in this area for whatever reason. But it would sure be welcome. Lord, it would be welcome to us for sure.”
Harris has heard from people in multiple states and several counties who plan on coming to Bell County for the event.