BECKLEY, WV (WVNS)– A Pioneer, in our own backyard.
The first black woman to work in a coal mine in the United States, and she did so for over two decades. We spoke with her daughter to discuss her impact on history in southern West Virginia.
Diane Williams remembers seeing photos of her mother living, Zora Stroud, in New York as a Licensed Practical Nurse and the epitome of style.
Family matters brought Zora back to the Mountain State. Tough times fell on the family and Zora knew she had to provide for her daughter and three sons.
“So one day she was just walking and talking to a neighbor who was just coming off a shift from the coal mines,” said Williams. “She remembers him as a straggly young man and she says
Im strong, if he can do it, I can do it.`”
Zora was one of five women to work at the Maple Meadow Coal Mine and the only black woman to go 700 feet underground at that time.
“But she was the one who eventually stayed the longest, 20 years plus and the mine closed down in 1998 and that is when she retired,” added Williams.
As a woman and a woman of color, Zora overcame many obstacles while underground. Eventually earning herself the nicknames “Big Mama” and “Chocolate Mama.”
“People didn’t expect a woman to stay in the coal mines and especially not a back woman on a crew of all white men,” Williams chuckled. “She tells a story that she never felt like it was racism but they did challenge her. But she’s the type of woman that if you dish it, she can take it but you don’t want the dish back. So, the men eventually would tell the younger miners coming in,
you dont want to mess with Chocolate Mama.`”
The hard labor to support her family quickly became a labor of love.
“She would say, ‘I have to take care of Mom and I have to take care of the boys and this coal dust,'” and she would wipe it off, ‘is what provides,'” said Zora’s daughter. “Those were the happiest times of her life and she even told me recently, ‘you know, if I was a little bit younger, I would go back in the coal mines,’ I said, ‘Mom!’ She said, ‘I loved it.'”
Zora is immortalized at the Beckley Exhibition Coal mine with a plaque and Williams hopes to one day have her name added to the National Museum of African American History and Culture so that one day when children think of black women who changed history they’ll think Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Zora Stroud.
Zora is now 85 and lives in Clarksburg with her son, Nathan. Her son Chris followed in his family’s footsteps and works as a Coal Miner.