“Mine 21,” the award-winning documentary about the Marion County coal mine explosion which took 13 lives in 1981, is now available to be viewed for free on the director’s website and on the Alexander Street online platform. Interested viewers can access the video by clicking the link on <slgarrett.com/mine21> or by going to <https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/mine-21>.
Located in the Griffith Creek area between Palmer and Whitwell, Mine 21 was the largest underground coal mine operated by the Grundy Mining Company. Its tragic explosion on Dec. 8, 1981, was the worst mining disaster in modern times in Tennessee. Investigation of the causes of the explosion went all the way to the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy, and resulted in the enactment of numerous measures that have saved the lives of many miners since.
The documentary tells the story of a deadly explosion by following two University of the South students from Grundy County—Kelsey Arbuckle and Alexa Fults—as they learn more about the disaster. Arbuckle’s grandfather, Charles Myers, was one of the miners killed in the explosion. Her grandmother, Barbara Myers, testified before Congress in the 1987 federal lawsuit.
“Mine 21” was directed by University of the South alumnus Stephen L. Garrett and produced by Professor Christopher M. McDonough. Local screenings in Monteagle, Whitwell, and Sewanee drew audiences of more than 1,400 people in 2018. The following year, the film won the Erikson Institute Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media from the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Mass. In March of 2020, the Appalachian Studies Association recognized the film with the Jack Spadaro Award, given annually to recognize “the best nonfiction film or television presentation on Appalachia or its people.” The film has also aired three times on Knoxville’s East Tennessee PBS station, to popular acclaim.
“We have been looking for a distributor for the past year, and are very happy to be partnering with Alexander Street,” said McDonough. Alexander Street is a publisher of numerous online collections and videos for scholarly research, teaching, and learning.
“Because this is such a significant historical event, we wanted our documentary to reach audiences across the country,” he said. “But it was equally important to us to avoid any pay-walls, so that ‘Mine 21’ could be watched at no cost by people in our community, whose heritage this story represents.”