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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, has ordered a review of the West Virginia State Museum's coal displays, following complaints from the United Mine Workers union that the facility downplays the UMW's struggle for fair treatment of miners by coal operators.
Earlier this week, UMW President Cecil Roberts sent a detailed letter to state Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, outlining instances where the museum "inaccurately portrays" the union and its "history of oppression and struggle against the coal operators" in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Tomblin press secretary Kimberly Osborne said Friday the Division of Culture and History has been instructed to examine the union's concerns and "act accordingly to ensure our state's history is portrayed accurately."
"I appreciate Cecil Roberts and the UMWA for bringing their concerns to light, and the impact labor organizations like the UMWA have had on our state and nation in shaping today's workplace," Tomblin said in a statement issued by Osborne in response to questions from the Gazette-Mail.
Osborne did not indicate how the review would be conducted or what the timeline would be for completing it.
In the letter he sent Tuesday to Reid-Smith, Roberts said the museum displays too often link the UMW "with violence or some other unsavory activity" and don't mention the union's efforts to improve working conditions and safety practices in the mines.
"The impression a visitor with little or no knowledge of the history of the coal industry and the UMWA would take away from the museum is that the union is made up of people who, while perhaps willing to work hard, are just as willing to be prone to armed violence to settle our problems, be they internal or external," Roberts wrote.
Roberts continued, "It is said that the 'victors write history.' I would point out that the fight between coal miners, our families and our communities against those who would exploit us is far from over. We have no intention of allowing a twisted version of what life was really like for our ancestors and ourselves to be foisted on an unsuspecting public."
Roberts outlined a number of specific objections to museum displays: