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North America
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Welfare, West Virginia, USA, Mining
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War, West Virginia is a historic mining town, population 1,000, nestled in the hills of Appalachia at the southern tip of the state. Since the mining industry pull-out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the town and its people have struggled for economic survival.
Michelle Mott

1996 — student award of excellence

In the heart of Appalachia, War, West Virginia is a historic coal mining town that has been struggling to survive since the major mining companies in the region pulled out in the mid-1970s. Once a major boom town, War was a weekend destination for many people in the region. Now, with most of its storefronts empty, War’s main street commerce only jumps at the first of each month when welfare checks arrive.

Documentation of the current condition of War is very important on many levels. First, southern West Virginia, a traditionally poor area, is often ignored at the state and national level. Many political decisions, especially those involving economic development or improvement projects, do not take the region into consideration. Without the support of the state to develop a new industrial base, the residents of War will be devastated when welfare reform takes effect. I want to use my photographs to expose the current level of poverty as an impetus for recognition and change.

Documentation is also important to show the strength in character possessed by the people of this region. The people of War are extremely courageous, generous, and kind. Their strength in the face of economic adversity is worthy of attention and respect. Many people who live outside Appalachia hold fast to negative stereotypes, which only reinforces the oppression of the people. I believe it is necessary to explore stereotypes where they exist but also to reveal the deeper traits that form a unique cultural identity.

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Luke Price contemplates the winter weather from his porch before venturing to a nearby abandoned coal mine to pick coal for his heater. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
Just dropping in, Harvey Gilbert engages Rush Justice in talk about the town at the Justice Twins Barbershop on a busy Friday afternoon. The shop, a popular gathering place for men, is open three days a week, Wednesday through Friday, offering $5 haircuts and old-fashioned straight-razor shaves. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
George Christian enjoys a smoke and coffee at the War Coffeeshop. In business since the 1930s, the coffeshop is the oldest eatery still open in town. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
For a cold can of beer and a hot game of pool, a regular crowd gathers at the Paradise Cafe, a beer joint on War's main street. In a town where folks are eager to help a friend get by, the owner of the Cafe allows his clientele to pay on account until the first of the month when government assistance checks arrive. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
Evangelist Roy Campbell sings God's message during a week-long revival honoring his visit at the Independent Church of the Living God, a Pentecostal church in Shop Hollow. Overwhelmed by stimuli, James Shelton, 2, looks in bewilderment as his mother approaches the altar to lend a hand in prayer. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
A woman lies in peace after being slain by the Holy Spirit. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
With nods and intermittent "amens," front row Sisters Bowler Brown, Corina Porter, Margaret Walker and Jean Woodson listen intently to fellow elder Sister Perdue as she shares her religious experience with the rest of the Free Mission of Christ Church in Excelsior Bottom, a predominantly black community. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
Getting psyched for the most important game during the season against Bailey High School, freshman Alexis Rautenkranz rallies her teammates. The Lady Owls basketball team enjoyed a very successful season this year. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
Glad that the day's work is done, Bay Star coal miners unwind in the wash house with a few jokes before showering and going home for the night. Although McDowell County was the last country in West Virginia to introduce unionization, over 70% of bay Star's employees are union workers. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation
Luke Price surveys the valley below the Susannah mine, abandoned forty years ago, where he picks coal to heat his home. Michelle Mott/Alexia Foundation