The town of Lynch was once a model for what a well-planned, well-run coal town could be. Built and owned by U.S. Steel in 1917, it reached its heyday in the mid-20th century. Today, the town has fewer than 1,000 residents, but they still have pride in their home.
“I’ve retired from the coal mines, and I was born and raised here,” says resident Rutland Melton. “I used to live in the city, but it’s too much hustle and bustle. Here, you’re comfortable. You can relax. You can sit on your porch and enjoy the view. I love Lynch, it’s my hometown.”
“My mother and father were born and raised here,” says Karida Brown of the Eastern Kentucky African Migration Project. “Both of my grandfathers mined coal here for a combined 60 years. This was their first and only job and they, like many of the coal miners in this community, succumbed to black lung and gave their lives to that job. My heritage is here. My roots are here. This community is special particularly to the African Americans who migrated here who made this place home because it’s so close-knit.”
Brown’s family story is a common one in Lynch, but with the end of U.S. Steel’s operation in the area, the town was left in search of a new identity.
“Our area was never made to be a city. This was a coal camp,” says Rev. Ronnie Hampton of Greater Mount Sinai Baptist Church. “The main store was the big store owned by the company…There were not corner stores or anything. There were not factories. Coal mining was the king. We created a community atmosphere and now that we’re here without U.S. Steel, without big coal, there are no places to bring a business to in Lynch. Even if anybody wanted to relocate, there’s no business place here.”
Although the population has dwindled, the history of the town continues to be a point of interest.
“I was working on Wall Street when the financial crisis happened,” explains Brown. “I was like, ‘who wants to do this? I don’t!’ So I quit. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology.”
Lynch became an inspiration to Brown.
“I sat right outside on my grandmother’s porch and I just looked around and I don’t know, something hit me,” she says. “I said, ‘this is your project. You have to tell this story.’ When I was a kid, Lynch was booming. And I came back, and I couldn’t help but notice this place is a third of the size that it was. When I say size, I mean both in terms of the population but also the actual physical space. There have been entire streets that have been bulldozed. Neighborhoods that used to be there when I was a kid that no longer exist. That was difficult to encounter and confront and I felt like there’s no other story that I want to tell than this one.”
“I love these mountains,” says resident Melvin Hardy Jr. “I always have and never wanted to live anywhere else. I was always proud to be from this area. So many people weren’t proud of being from here because we didn’t have a whole lot. But money doesn’t make happiness. We’ve gone through some hard times, but when our kids were little, I would come in from work and they would come running and jump into my arms. We didn’t have any money but those were some of the happiest days of our lives.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2401, which originally aired on October 6, 2018. Watch the full episode.