Forged by Coal

A Family's Story

Non-Fiction - Autobiography
326 Pages
Reviewed on 06/14/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Foluso Falaye for Readers' Favorite

Lowell Douglas Bailey ​and Vergie Ellen Terry, who tied the knot on the 28th of May, 1945, belong to the generation of Americans that experienced the last years of coal camp life in West Virginia. In Forged by Coal, their first child, Terry Bailey, tells their story and reveals what building a family was like for coal miners in the last decade that coal companies maintained full ownership. The first part of the book covers when Vergie and Doug met, their families, their wedding, and the devastating tragedy they suffered while expecting their first child. Following this is a narration of the reality and struggle of moving to the coal camps. Part III, the largest part of the story, depicts the lifestyle of the coal miners and their families, with the Baileys at the center of the story.

It's amazing that though the working and living conditions were far from ideal for the Baileys in the coal camps, they still endeavored to give their children their best and steer them to a better, healthier reality. The highly comprehensive and well-organized pages of the book gave me a good picture of the lifestyle of Americans in the 50s and 60s—including the state of technology, medicine, education, and other phenomena. I particularly enjoyed reading about the early stages of polio vaccination from the perceptive of the Baileys, who had to weigh up the dangers and benefits of giving their child the new treatment. Terry Bailey tells a beautifully, meticulously written story that teaches the value of resilience in the face of challenging situations. Forged by Coal inspired me to do what I can to create a more humane existence for the next generation.

K.C. Finn

Forged by Coal: A Family’s Story is a work of non-fiction in the autobiography subgenre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by Terry Bailey. Set in 1940s West Virginia as the coal mining empire entered into a deep decline, the book follows Doug and Vergie Bailey from the perspective of their first child and charts their journey of heartbreak and resolve in the shadow of seismic changes to an entire way of life. As the economic power of coal starts to fall past the point of recovery, the Baileys are amongst thousands of families who must find a new future for themselves.

The experiences of those who grew up in the coal camps of the 1950s and 60s are specific to that industry and it can be challenging for people born outside of those communities to understand what it was like to live in that environment. Fortunately, Terry Bailey’s prose brings the camps to life vividly. It provides a point of access for outsiders to understand the experiences of those who made a life in the coal camps, only to have it turned upside down during the second half of the 20th century. Forged by Coal is a well-considered – almost philosophical – reflection on an often-neglected period of history and what was lost when time marched forward and rendered the camps obsolete. The warmth of the author's memories for this part of his life, despite the turbulence that came with it, can be felt on every page. I would highly recommend this book to readers everywhere, in particular those wishing to learn more about a time and place not often the subject of non-fiction accounts such as this.

Pikasho Deka

Forged by Coal: A Family's Story is an autobiographical memoir by Terry Bailey which recounts his family's coal camp life in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Terry's parents, Doug and Vergie, married at the end of the Second World War. Soon after their union, while expecting her first child, Vergie received the news of the tragic deaths of her brother and mother. In 1946, Terry came into this world and took his first steps in the small mining town of Covel, West Virginia, where his father worked at the Crane Creek Mine. Over the years, the Baileys tragically lost a child soon after birth, but Terry eventually ends up with two brothers. However, as the Baileys traverse the 50s and enter the 60s, their coal camp lives will be changed forever.

Terry Bailey tells a heartwarming story of his family's ups and downs as they navigated their way through their humble beginnings as a mining family in the 40s and 50s in rural West Virginia. Forged by Coal is a tale of resilience, courage, and iron will in the face of adversity. Bailey paints a vivid picture, depicting the life of an Appalachian family involved in coal mining back in the days when it was known as "Black Gold." Doug and Vergie's struggles and determination to provide a good life for their children captivates the reader due to how compelling and relatable their story is. There is a piece of history amidst those old mining towns that survive through books like this. Highly recommended.