Excerpts from "The Hawks Nest Tunnel: An Unabridged History." Further testimony of Philippa Allen at Congressional hearings.
Kies, purchasing agent for Rinehart & Dennis, was overheard to say to a respirator
salesman, “I wouldn’t give $2.50 for all the niggers on the job.” Kies was voicing the
hatred and greed of this large company for which he worked. Ernest Lyes, a white man of
26, testified in court that he heard Kies say this. I have an affidavit covering this matter.
Why do you think the contractors from Charlottesville, Virginia, dared not furnish
their workers with safeguards of masks and wet drills? Because they thought they would
finish the job and be out of the state before the men began to die. Silicosis usually takes
from 10 to 20 years to develop in one’s lungs. Kies spoke again for the company when
he said to Hawkins, the assistant superintendent, “I knew they was going to kill these
niggers within 5 years, but I didn’t know they was going to kill them so quick.” George
Houston made an affidavit saying he heard Kies say this in the company commissary
where George had gone to buy a can of tomatoes.
Almost as soon as work was begun in the tunnel the colored men began to die like
flies, because the percentage of silica in the dust they inhaled was so large.
The ambulance was going day and night to the Coal Valley Hospital.21 As soon as a
man died they would bury him, we were told. One colored boy died at 4 o’clock in the
afternoon and he was buried at 5 o’clock the same afternoon without being washed.
Why? Because the company did not wish an autopsy performed, which would have
uncovered the cause of his death.
If word of the terrible disease killing the men had reached their ears, do you think
they would have stayed on the job? The tunnel needed to be finished quick, quick,
quick. Profits were all that interested the company