Episode 34: The Company Man

When he was just 38 years old, Mackie Branham Jr., a coal miner, was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, a debilitating and terminal form of black lung, a disease that was thought to be a relic of the past; a problem when coal mining was at its peak. In this episode we hear from Branham and his family, in a collaboration with Producer Benny Becker who reported on the resurgence of black lung in coal country. We'll look into why, despite the severity of the illness and the large number of miners being diagnosed, it's not getting a lot of attention.

Mackie Branham Jr. | Photo: Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

Mackie Branham Jr. | Photo: Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

For more information on the plight of Mackie Branham Jr. and other coal miners like him, and the resurgence of black lung, we encourage you to read/listen to the reporting done by Benny for Ohio Valley ReSource back in December of last year: "Fighting for Breath: Black Lung's Deadliest Form Increases"

After the story first aired, Benny and the Ohio Valley ReSource received many requests asking how they could help the Branhams. This is a follow-up to the story: "How to Help Those 'Fighting for Breath'"

These stories resulted from an investigation by NPR's Howard Berkes which uncovered an alarming trend of progressive massive fibrosis in Appalachia. Howard's original story can be found here: "Advanced Black Lung Cases Surge in Appalachia"

We also recommend watching Harlan County USA, the Academy Award-winning documentary from Barbara Kopple which follows a grueling coal miners' strike in Kentucky in the mid 70s. 

In 2008, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) produced this film, Faces of Black Lung which shares the stories of two miners suffering from black lung disease.

Outside/In was produced this week by:

Benny Becker and Sam Evans-Brown, with help from, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby,  Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Thanks to NPR and to Howard Berkes for sharing some of Howard’s audio from his reporting. Also, thanks to Jeff Young of the Ohio Valley Resource and to WMMT, Appalshop’s community radio station.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-603-223-2448. Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

Music this week from Mon Plaisir. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from this artist.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.