Under the maxim "Once a coal queen, always a coal queen," West Virginians just gathered to celebrate a beleaguered industry that's trashing their communities, killing their neighbors and both poisoning and ripping them off if they're lucky enough to find work by crowning the 2014 Baby, Toddler, Tiny, Little and Jr. Miss Coal Princess - bring on the diamond-shaped black rhinestones! - at their annual Coal Festival. West Virginia's festival, one of several around the country, is aimed both at fighting to preserve their jobs, pride and culture against what they see as a "war on coal," but also raising scholarship money for girls in - irony alert - one of the country's poorest but resource-rich states. Some critics object to that dichotomy: “Anyone who is willing to die in a mine to support their family should make enough money to send their child to any school.” Many others, documented in the Chapel Hill multimedia project “Coal: A Love Story,” accept their ambivalent lot.
“We’re in a love affair with coal right now because of the way we live. It’s a twisted love affair: we depend on it for everything that we do, but at the same time it’s killing us.”