Magazine article Black History Bulletin

Digging Coal in Rendville, Ohio: A Lesson in Race and Recession

Magazine article Black History Bulletin

Digging Coal in Rendville, Ohio: A Lesson in Race and Recession

Article excerpt


The current economic climate provides high school social studies teachers with challenges and opportunities. I split my classroom teaching time between economics and history. I often find myself using economics to teach history, and vice versa. Teaching cultural diversity using these content areas is also a rewarding experience. An extended research project my students and I undertook has yielded a fascinating way to study race and recession within a historical context.

In 2005-2006, while researching the history of Emancipation Day in Ohio, my students and I focused on the towns that celebrated this unique holiday. Emancipation Day in the upper Midwest was celebrated on September 22. This was the date President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The celebration would include music, speeches, and sports. In 1891 Richard Davis described Emancipation Day in Rendville: "Last Tuesday, September 22, we celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation. There was no work at either of our mines that day and a nice day we had, everything passed off smoothly. It seemed all were interested, both white and colored." (1)

My students' research can be seen at: http://www. EmancipationDay.htm

Rendville is one of only two towns in Ohio that follows this tradition. By reading the Civil War Pension files on the town's African American veterans who fought in the Union army (U.S. Colored Troops or USCT), we gained a glimpse into their lives as coal miners. I've created a lesson that can be used to teach issues of industrialization, cultural diversity, and economics. By examining the origins and operations of the coal mines that primarily employed African Americans in the late nineteenth century, students are exposed to economic and labor issues related to industrialization, as well as the economic opportunities that brought African Americans to Ohio's Hocking Valley. Coal mining also provides an interesting example of the strenuous, often dangerous, physical labor working people in the late nineteenth century performed to make a living. The available historical photos also provide students with rare visuals and wonderful tools for discussions.

Social studies teachers should strive to find creative ways to combine economics, history, and cultural diversity. Cross-curricular lessons provide meaningful opportunities for students to connect with content while developing a broader understanding of the real-world application of economic principles.


Rendville was a mining town in southeastern Ohio formed in 1880, one of several towns in the Hocking Valley created to mine coal from the Sunday Creek Valley. Rendville and the neighboring town of Coming were both formed by the extension of the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad. William P. Rend formed the town around several of his newly opened mines. The Rend #3 mine was opened during this time period (early 1880s). This mine was worked initially only by African American miners, and these men and their families made Rendville their home. Rendville would become Ohio's largest African American mining town.

The people who moved to Rendville came from a variety of places. Some of the African American miners were originally brought to the Hocking Valley as strikebreakers in the mid-1870s. Rendville resident and miner Isaiah Williamson, a Civil War veteran (USCT) and former slave, recounts how he first came from Tennessee to the Hocking Valley: "I came here about 1874 when Peter Hayden brought colored people here from the south to work in the mines during the strike here at that time." (2) Williamson would live and work in Haydenville and Nelsonville before settling in Rendville to work in Rend #3.

Men arrived from northern Virginia and West Virginia. These men were not brought in as strikebreakers; instead, they were willing to work (at least initially) under the terms and conditions set by the operators of the #3 mine. …

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