–from Interview with King Chandler, Jr. (May 1983)
One of many Birmingham-area company towns, Muscoda was located at Readers Gap on Red Mountain, south of Bessemer. This ability to pass over the mountain is why Alabama SR-150 (John Hawkins Parkway) runs through the area now, and it probably made the area attractive to the mining companies working on, under, and around Red Mountain.
Is anything still standing in Muscoda? Well, there’s no community of Muscoda anymore, but churches and schools in the area still bear the name. Check out the photo blog What’s Left of Birmingham, featuring images by Naaman B. Fletcher, which has a beautiful exhibit on the ruins of the mine itself on the page Muscoda Mines.
Perhaps because it was one of the larger communities, we have a lot of material on Muscoda, including what’s presented here: images of the facilities and interviews with people who lived in the community.
Interview with King Chandler, Jr.
with Brenda and Steve McCallum, 1983, 1 tape, 1 hour 3 min
Chandler recalls growing up in the Muscoda mining camps; he discusses camp schools and baseball teams, and meeting his wife in the camp. For income, Chandler worked in the iron ore mines, went into the army and worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration). He also rented an acre of land from the company, for farming. Chandler also discusses living during the Depression; he recalls that the Red Cross set up stores that issued flour, meal, peas, rice, vegetables and canned pork.
Interview with Bobby Clayton
with Cliff Kuhn, 1984, 2 tapes, total 1 hour 8 min
Clayton explains that his family came by wagon from Mississippi to Alabama for work. Clayton’s father was a miner in Muscoda, Alabama. Clayton was born in 1941 and grew up in the company camp. He describes life in the company camp, mining, his interest in history and recounts several illustrative stories he heard about life during The Depression. He also recalls the competition between mining communities and states that it was close to impossible to date someone from a different camp. He explains that the mining camps were eventually called villages, because the term camp had a certain stigma attached to it. Families who lived in the mining camps or villages were called camp folk. Clayton explains that the camps provided everything for employees and he believes this created a dependency on the company and a lack of ambition in some workers.
Interview with Thelma Emmons
with Brenda McCallum, 1984, 2 tapes, total 1 hour 15 min
Thelma Emmons talks about her mother, Suberta Coleman, a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Coleman was one of the first Alabamians to graduate from Fisk University, the first full-time African-American supervisor in a mining village and the first black Alabamian to study with Jane Addams in the Hull House in Chicago. Coleman was also a school teacher and principal for the Muscoda Camp schools. She describes her mother’s work and the changes she made in the mining camp, such as teaching parents about nutrition and establishing a canning club. Emmons also served as a social worker in the camp; for her training, she was sent to Chicago to work with Jane Addams. Emmons also describes the company schools. She explains that these were excellent schools; money was taken out of each employee’s check to support the school. They were able to pay teachers well so they often got the best teachers. Emmons was educated in the Muscoda School and went on to teach there.
Interview with Jesse Grace
with Cliff Kuhn, 1984, 2 tapes, total 1 hour 32 min
Grace was a coal miner in the Muscoda camp from the age of 15 until 1954, when the mine closed. He recalls the working conditions in the mine, living in the company camp and losing his leg in a mining accident. He also discusses mining methods, including mining with mules. Grace also describes how the union came about in 1933. Until he worked in the mine, he had never heard of the union but was warned by his employers to not have anything to do with folks come from up North or somewhere or another, wanting to get y’all in a union. He says the workers eventually joined because they wanted better working conditions. Grace was laid off as an undesirable due to his union activities; the company was eventually required to hire him back and pay him for the two years of lost work. He also recalls losing his leg in the accident and returning to work after he had recovered. The company provided $300 in compensation for his leg.
Interview with Leola Harris
with Brenda McCallum, 1984, 2 tapes, total 1 hour 6 min
Leola Harris was born in 1919 in the Muscoda mining camp. She recalls growing up in the mining camp and describes the houses people lived in and the physical layout of the camp. She describes daily life in the camp and her early education in the company schools. Harris also recounts her later years as a school teacher in Birmingham. Harris recalls growing up during The Depression. She said her family received food (cheese, butter, flour, etc.) from the government. Of daily life in the camp, Harris recalls attending church in the mining camp, explaining that the women of the camp convinced the company to build the church. She explains that the children of the camp received free medical and dental care from the company doctors and dentists. She also talks about blues and boogie-woogie music being played in the camp, by the miners. Harris explains that the children who grew up in mining towns were known as round the mountain gang. There was a certain stigma associated with being raised in the camp; many thought the children would never amount to anything as adults.
Interview with Katherine Smith
with Peggy Hamrick, 1984, 2 tapes, total 1 hour 5 min
In this interview, Mrs. F. C. Smith talks about her life as a mining camp doctor’s wife. Smith’s husband was hired by the mining company to run a small hospital on company grounds. Smith recalls that her husband tried to keep his work and home life separate, so she doesn’t know much about the injuries he treated. She also says she didn’t mix with the miners very much. Despite that, Smith remembers many details of camp life. She recalls the camp school, which taught the children a lot of practical things like cooking and sewing. Smith herself said she spent many of her days sewing. She bought her groceries at the commissary. She also explains that she had a black mammy for her children. Smith says, I felt funny living in a mine. Rather than receive mail at and address that revealed that she was in a mining camp, she used the number of her street.