Remarks made at the celebration to honour miners’ union leader Terry Thomas’s life
Gorseinon Workingmen’s Club, South Wales
January 20, 2017
Thank you for the invitation to participate in this memorial for Terry today. I am deeply honoured to be included as part of this gathering.
I first met Terry in 1974, when as a young American student at Oxford University, I came to the Welsh valleys to make recordings with Welsh miners to share in turn with miners in the Appalachian coalfields in America, using the then fairly new media of videotape. In both places this period was an important time: in Kentucky miners were engaged in the now famous Harlan County, USA strike – later the subject of an award winning film – and here of course, there was the 1974 miners’ strike, to which earlier speakers have referred.
That initial exchange, facilitated by Hywel Francis and the South Wales Miners library, led to a relationship between miners in America and those in Wales which continues to this day. The story of this 40-year exchange between the Welsh and Appalachian Valleys was documented recently in the film After Coal. In that film, Terry plays an important role, first shown sharing his stories and insights with me in 1974 in marches and in the miners’ library, and later shown visiting Harlan County to talk about the changes in the valleys following the closure of the pits in both places.
Terry was one of the first miners whom I met when I first came in Wales 43 years ago, and I saw him often in years following. Though we lost touch in later years, he continued to always welcome and support American visitors to Wales, and to be a leading ambassador of this important exchange. I learned a great deal from Terry, and others whom I met through him. Let me share at least three principles which I saw exemplified in Terry’s life – principles that continue to endure and to inspire.
Terry was a working class man committed to education of others. I considered myself one his pupils. When I came to the Valleys in 1974, as a young American student, I was virtually ignorant of the rich history of Wales, and in particular its mining and labour history of which Terry was a part. The first time I met Terry was in Clydach Miners Club at the height of the 1974 miners’ strike. Terry and a few miners agreed to come away from their evening with other colleagues to a small room upstairs, where I asked naively, and in typical outsider fashion: ‘Tell me, what led up to this strike?’ Forty five minutes later the Chair, Evan John, was still lecturing me on Welsh history and we had only had only made it to 1947!
But Terry never seemed to mind my questions. Highly articulate and deeply knowledgeable, he always was willing to explain, to educate and to share, whether at the Miners Library, in the miner’s pubs, or on the picket line, Through him, as well through Hywel and others, I learned of the power of miners’ education, as a critical part of Welsh and working class history and culture, and as a force for social change and for social justice. Through sharing his knowledge with others, Terry also helped to inspire others.
Secondly, from Terry and others I also learned of the power of international solidarity. Within Wales, I learned of the long history of solidarity by the miners and others for social justice, whether that be in the struggles for liberation in Spain, or South Africa, or the links with Paul Robeson and the civil rights movement in America. In sharing his knowledge on video, in hosting countless visitors from American mining communities over the years, and even in taking time to share his stories in the After Coal film, Terry also lived the values of solidarity, comradeship and generosity to others. In a world today of rising isolationism, of loss of compassion for others, these values of solidarity and support – regardless of nationality – remain enduring legacies of Terry and those around him.
Looking forward in the struggle for social justice.
Throughout Terry’s life, from miner to NUM leader, to life after the pits closed, Terry always looked forward. He knew that his principles and values – while always constant – would also mean different forms of action and leadership in different points of time. In the 70’s it was a struggle for justice in the coal mines; forty years later it was a struggle of justice for the communities who now faced the challenge life after coal. In a rapidly changing world, where we must all look to the new challenges of social justice, he never gave up hope and the belief that if communities came together, the world could be a better place. These traits too are ones which will continue to inspire.
The filmmakers have sent some short clips from those early 1974 videos, and from the After Coal documentary made some 41 years later. Let’s listen for a few minutes to Terry’s words. John Gaventa
This Friday, January 20, a ceremony will be held at the Gorseinon Workingmen’s Club near Swansea to honor the life of miner and labor organizer Terry Thomas, who died this fall at the age of 78. Terry was an important voice in the After Coal documentary.
Terry went into the coal mines in his native Wales in 1960, working underground, and became involved in the National Union of Mineworkers, as local branch secretary. Terry went on to serve as Vice President of the South Wales NUM between 1983 and 1989, coordinating strikes and difficult negotiations throughout the 1984-85 strike year. He then served as a chairman of the Wales Executive Committee of the Labour Party.
In After Coal we first see Terry in 1974, interviewed by John Gaventa, in the successful strike which brought in the Labour Government. Terry is also on screen responding to the exchange of videos between Appalachia and Wales on the Brookside strike in Appalachia.
We met Terry while researching this film. We visited his home in Gowerton, where we admired his lovely garden. As we toured South Wales mining sites he taught us about the solidarity of Welsh miners, about the strength of Welsh Labour, and the hardships and devotion of Welsh families.
We filmed Terry on an abandoned mine site, and with Hywel Francis at the Miners library. Terry also came to Appalachia, where he joined us for a presentation on After Coal at the University of Kentucky, speaking with fervor about the strength of communities and the hard organizing work of Welsh labor during the past century. Then he travelled to Harlan County, Kentucky, where retired miner Carl Shoupe met him for a spirited exchange and tour of mining sites in Benham, Kentucky.
Terry was a key figure in the NUM, then in the Labour Party in Wales over many decades. He was also devoted to his family. He travelled to California to winter with his relative, winning bowls competitions and arguing with republicans for the wisdom of socialized medicine.
Terry was wise, passionate, adventurous, and full of stories, and we will miss him.
Thanks to all of you who helped make the release of After Coal successful in 2016.
Over the past year, we have screened the After Coal at 6 festivals in the U.S. and the U.K., organized a musical exchange between the coalfields of Appalachia and Wales and broadcast the film on public television in West Virginia and Kentucky. We welcome your ideas for future screenings and events.
In 2017, we look forward to helping coalfield communities chart a just and equitable path to a healthy future. A companion book for After Coal is in the works and we will share details once the publishing schedule is set.
Finally, After Coal is now available for online credit card purchase through our distribution partners at Appalshop. Here is a link to the Appalshop Store.
The 25th Annual Southern Appalachian Labor School Solidarity Cultural Festival will consist of a Dinner and Premiere Film showing of “After Coal” at 5:30 p.m. on July 12, 2016 at the Historic Oak Hill School in Oak Hill, West Virginia.
“After Coal” profiles inspiring individuals who are building a new future in the Appalachian coalfields and South Wales. Music plays a major role in this documentary essay, produced at Appalachian State University by faculty member/film maker Tom Hansell who once was with Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The film has fiscal sponsorship from the Southern Appalachian Labor School, and received financial support from the Chorus Foundation, United States Artists, and the West Virginia Humanities Council.
The roots of the film goes back several decades when Appalachian scholar Helen Lewis, SALS co-founder David Greene, and others in a small group went to Wales when coal mines were being shuttered. In essence, the riveting film now returns to Wales to view the aftermath in the context of the current situation that is unfolding in the Appalachian coalfields. The film has already been screened at international film festivals.
The Dinner and Film tickets are $25 at the door, by mail, or on line. Tickets for Unemployed Coal Mining Family Members and Students are $15. Scholarships are available and SALS has solicited donors for the scholarship fund.
For more information:
In June of 2016, we not only celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Seedtime on the Cumberland, we welcomed (or croeso in Welsh) to Whitesburg, friends from very familiar looking communities in South Wales. Last summer my best friend Elizabeth and I had one of those rare, life-changing chances to visit another country, not as mere tourists, but as guests in the homes of musicians, artists, community leaders, and members of British Parliament. After days of travel on planes, trains, and buses from Whitesburg to Wales, we found ourselves rolling through hills that looked like home.
Our adventure took us to historical churches turned community theaters, kitchen tables filled with tea cups and Welsh cakes, and even an outdoor Welsh culture festival, Tafwyl, inside the walls of Cardiff Castle. Tafwyl featured food, art, amazing local musicians performing both traditional and modern Welsh music, and was free to everyone. Just like Seedtime! This was all possible for us because of After Coal, a feature length documentary and community engagement project, and the Chorus Foundation, committed to a just economic transition in our region.
On Friday, June 3 2016, After Coal creator Tom Hansel, Welsh singer/ songwriter Chris King, and Welsh artist/ educator Richard Davies presented a special Appalshop Theater screening of After Coal. “The documentary profiles inspiring individuals who are building a new future in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and South Wales. Shot on location in neighboring Harlan County and the Dulais Valley of South Wales, After Coal introduces viewers to former miners using theater to rebuild community infrastructure, women transforming a former coal board office into an education hub, and young people striving to stay in their home communities.”
Straight from the Seedtime website, a thing of beauty, ‘Seedtime’s goal is to be a mirror for mountain people and communities. To remind folks here of our cultural riches and traditions that make this region vibrant and always growing. Seedtime on the Cumberland brings the arts of the community to the community. By broadcasting this festival live on the airwaves of WMMT and on the internet at wmmt.org, we present ourselves to the entire world.’
Chris King grew up in Wales during the 1980s and the memory of the 1984 Welsh miner’s strike. Chris’ Grandfather, Bill King, was Secretary of The National Union of Miners Merthyr Tydfil Lodge at the time. He performs a mix of original and folk songs, and his song Salt Of The Earth revisits Chris’ memories of his grandfather during the 1984 miners’ strike. Welsh musicians Chis King and Nigel Jones graced the Seedtime Main Stage Saturday afternoon, following Letcher County legend Lee Sexton. Other local favorites like Brett Ratliff, Kevin Howard, and Sunrise Ridge took the Main Stage on Friday at Seedtime.
On Saturday the old Boone Motor Building, across from Appalshop, housed the Annual Punk Show and flea market, as much a Seedtime staple as the Carcassonne Square Dance that same night. Regional treasures Sam Gleaves and Amythyst Kiah returned by popular demand this year, and new Seedtime stars such as the Local Honeys, Price Sisters, and Jericho Woods gave us all something to talk about into the summer.
When Elizabeth and I were hopping off our last train, to our plane home, a man saw us sling our backpacks onto our shoulders and asked “going anywhere nice?” She could have told him any number of unbelievable places we’d seen over the last two weeks of travel but she just said “home.” Because no matter how far you go from east Kentucky, there is nowhere quite like home. We’re so lucky for festivals like Seedtime and projects like After Coal that bridge our global community and celebrate home.
We are pleased to announce that After Coal will have a UK premiere on May 27, 2016 at the internationally renown Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. The festival has planned a full evening that includes a film screening, a panel discussion, and live music.
After the film screening and panel discussion, musicians from the valleys of South Wales and the mountains of Appalachia will share coal mining music. Welsh performers include Frank Hennessy and Dave Burns whose song Farewell to the Rhondda appears in After Coal. Appalachian musicians Rebecca Branson Jones and Trevor McKenzie will perform traditional songs including their version of Looking for the Stone which appears in the documentary.
We look forward to launching After Coal with our partners in Wales. More information about After Coalscreenings in the US is coming soon.
2015 was an eventful year for the After Coal project. We have wrapped up production and are ready to release the film in early 2016. Here are some highlights from the past year:
1. Presenting a work-in-progress of the After Coal documentary at DOVE workshops, Theatr Soar, and Swansea University in Wales.
Two of our partners in Kentucky, Elizabeth Sanders and Tanya Turner, travelled with After Coal director Tom Hansell to meet our partners in Wales and discuss a post coal economy.
2. Presenting at the Its Good To Be Young In The Mountains (IG2BYITM) in Harlan Kentucky.
3.Traveling to Romania to present at the Appalachian / Carpathian Conference.
4. Presenting at the West Virginia International Film Festival and at a FreshDocs screening sponsored by the Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Documentary Fund.
It has been a busy year, we look forward to keeping in touch in as we officially release the documentary in 2016. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to sponsor a screening in your community
I recently travelled to the Carpathian mountains of Romania to present the After Coal project at a conference titled Appalachians/Carpathians: Researching, Documenting, and Preserving Highland Traditions.
Like many Americans, I knew little about the Carpathian mountains, the range that stretches across Central Europe, including parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, and most of Romania. At the conference, biologist John Akeroyd from the Adept foundation described the region as “the last of old world Europe” and a hotbed of biodiversity. The fact that Romania was part of the Soviet controlled Eastern Bloc until their 1989 revolution means that many rural areas are not developed. Horse drawn carts and handmade haystacks are still a common sight in the countryside.
However, the Soviets also built immense industrial centers in parts of Romania. The Jiu valley is a coal-mining region on the edge of the Carpathians. Under Soviet control, the largest mine employed tens of thousands of workers. After the revolution, the mines were privatized and workers lost their jobs. Declining coal markets and international competition mean that the last mine in the Jiu Valley closed in October of 2015.
At the Appalachians/Carpathians conference I presented After Coal along side Romanian photographer Gabriel Amza, who has spent years documenting the Jiu Valley for a project he calls Genius Loci – or spirit of place. Genius Loci is beautifully haunting work that captures the despair and abandonment that many mining communities feel, without resorting to stereotypes.
Gabriel Amza explained some of the complexities of his project to me:
“I think coal is dirty. But, coal is an important part of our recent history. And the reason projects such as Genius Loci and After Coal are important is that just because coal is dirty reality, it shouldn’t be forgotten. We need to remember where these communities started. It’s not always a pretty beginning, but it’s a necessary part of the story.
Where they go from here? It’s the communities own business, and their responsibility to create a new future. But it’s up to us to document these things because other people aren’t going to do it, and not everyone wants to remember the dirtiness of coal.”
As Gabriel and I discussed the situation in the Jiu Valley, we agreed that the outlook in Romania’s Jiu Valley is bleak when compared to central Appalachia or South Wales. Although Romania’s economy has improved since joining the European Union, the national economy is much weaker than the US or UK, and fewer resources are available to reclaim mines, retrain workers, or regenerate coalfield communities. The cycle of deindustrialization has hit the Jiu Valley much later than Wales or Appalachia.
By discussing similarities and differences among coal mining regions in Appalachia, Wales, and Romania, this kind of international exchange can help provide people in each region valuable insight. Opening up a dialogue between coalfield residents can inspire communities to create their own solutions for a future after coal.