Ensure Displays Are Accurate

Given the long, sometimes vicious, history of acrimony between coal operators and the United Mine Workers, it is unlikely anything can be done about the West Virginia State Museum’s coal displays that will satisfy all interested parties. Still, state officials should do all in their power to ensure the exhibits are as accurate as possible.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has ordered a review of the displays, after hearing of complaints by UMW President Cecil Roberts. His contention is the displays too often portray union members as instigators of violence, without accurately showing the “history of oppression and struggle against the coal operators.”

Again, Roberts’ job is to burnish the UMW’s image, while coal operators bristle at terms such as “oppression.”

Without downgrading the displays to be no more than a discussion of geology, we don’t see how everyone can be placated.

Still, it may be appropriate to take another look at the exhibits. One specific complaint by Roberts raises questions about accuracy.

One of the displays in question involves an old-fashioned company store operated by a mining firm. At one time, some miners were paid not in U.S. legal tender but in “scrip” issued by companies. They could spend it only at stores operated by the mining firms.

In a letter outlining his concerns, Roberts said this of the “Company Store” exhibit: “makes it seem as if the scrip system was little different than a credit card … Nowhere is it mentioned that miners had absolutely no choice as to whether they used scrip or not. …”

Indeed, an accurate portrayal of the system would seem to require the correction suggested by Roberts.

At the same time, it would not be accurate to downplay the violence – on both sides – that sometimes occurred in confrontations among union miners and coal companies.

The review ordered by Tomblin should not be used to make the coal displays “politically correct” – from any standpoint. Again, however, accuracy is vital, and if changes are needed in that regard, they should be made.