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Sunday, February 16, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Witnesses To Change -- Former Miner Taps The Vein Of Recollection

Ernest Moore, who turns 80 in May, lives on Capitol Hill. He's proud of his roots as the child of a coal-mining family in Franklin, Wash., near Black Diamond. Moore's grandfather, born a slave in 1846, came West to Franklin after working as a coal miner in Tennessee. African-American miners were told they were needed because of mine expansion, but they discovered it was to break a strike when they were greeted with rocks and gun shot.

Persons interested in helping Moore organize a barbecue this summer for a belated centennial celebration of Franklin mining should call 324-5735. ---------------------------

People who go to work in the mines forget there's any other work but in the mines. Even if the mines shut down, they'll stick around and wait.

It's hard on your back, and if you work long enough you get black lung. If there's any other job, you'd be better off taking that other job.

I was born in Franklin, a coal-mining town in King County, on May 5, 1912. My father's name is Alfred Moore, my mother's name is Annie Moore. I had two brothers and two sisters.

When I was 6 years old, Franklin caught on fire, and we moved to Newcastle. And every winter and fall there they had heavy snow. The deepest there was 5 feet. And I was so small I couldn't go to the movies they had there in Newcastle. Charlie Chaplin was playing.

In 1917 we moved back to Franklin. My brother graduated from the eighth grade in Franklin, but he couldn't go to high school in Black Diamond because white kids beat him up. So he stayed home.

My dad broke his leg in 1920. My brother would go to work with him in the afternoon, and fish in the Green River. My dad was on the injured list for two years.

Franklin was divided into three parts: Flats, Dogtown and Badlands. The colored people lived in Badlands. So when we moved to Dogtown, where colored people had never lived before, there was a certain tenant house that was empty. And they gave my dad a job watching the empty tenant houses for their insurance.

My sister was the first black to graduate from Black Diamond High School, in 1925.

That same year the mines went on strike. But they didn't have blacks to scab so they went to North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming to get men from the farms. There was a dust bowl storm at that time and the farmers lost their crops.

But at that time oil was just coming in so these big apartment houses and big buildings and even ships and trains started using oil instead of coal so the coal mines started shutting down.

After my brother and I finished grade school, we had to go from Franklin to Black Diamond on a bus. In Black Diamond school, we used to have a lot of fights and kids would pick on you. We weren't scared so we'd fight.

In 1927, we told our dad that we were going to Seattle to see if we could make it. We got a room for a week for $2.

The following Monday my brother got a job for $2 a day washing and polishing cars down there on automobile road, right down below Broadway on Pike.

Two days later I got a job shining shoes for a dollar a day.

In 1930, I went to work as a custodian at Frederick and Nelson and got $18 a week.

Later on, my brother died - that was 1933 - and so I went back to Franklin, back home, and I cut cordwood for $1.63 a cord, and did other odd jobs. It was all white up there, no coloreds.

It was the Depression. Coal mining opened up for me. I went back to Franklin where they were going into an air tunnel, they call it a water level, and I started working there. And after they got opened and got back far enough, they got some mules. I was a mule skinner.

After my dad took sick and died, my mother moved to Allentown, which is just outside of Seattle, and I went on to Seattle. I got married and had one son, and then during the war I worked for the quartermaster. After the war I worked in a foundry for six years, and from 1952 to 1970 I worked for the city engineering department. Then I retired under city disability with glaucoma.

Mayor Charles Royer had some extra money and so I used a grant to write "The Coal Miner Who Came West" (in collaboration with Gloria Phelps).

I wrote the story as I did, but I call it sugar coating. I didn't tell it exactly like it was. In other words, it was more vicious, more rough. When the blacks first came here, the whites didn't like it. Well, it wasn't the blacks' fault that they came here, the white man hired them.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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