Dr. Paul Rakes is a humble man. If you ask him, he will say he’s not certain how much of an expert he is, that he’s just an old coal miner who empathizes when disasters happen.
Following the April 5th disaster in the Upper Big Branch Mine, Rakes, associate professor of history at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, was interviewed by national media to share his expertise and impressions on mining and mine safety.
Rakes was contacted by the Washington Post; was interviewed for the PBS Jim Lehrer News Hour; appeared on the Talk of the Nation call in radio show from Washington D.C.; acted as an advisor to ABC news; was interviewed by and quoted in a Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail; and spoke on West Virginia Public Radio prior to the miner’s memorial service in Beckley, WV.
“I know there were several additional newspaper pieces based on interviews with me,” says Rakes, “but it wasn’t crucial for me to make note of them all. It was more important for me to address the tragedy, the perception and reality of the mines, and how these types of disasters can both happen and be prevented.”
Rakes is a third generation coal miner who was born in a West Virginia coal camp and worked in the coal industry for twenty years. He holds a master’s degree in history from Marshall University and a Ph.D. in history from West Virginia University where he specialized in Appalachian history while concentrating on coal politics, technology and disasters in West Virginia.
“To this day I still feel a cultural bond with coal miners and my heart aches for the families and communities who are so devastated when such a tragedy occurs. If my interviews added any insight, or found a way to continue to drive home the necessity of mining safety regulations and strong enforcement, then maybe I have helped in some small way,” Rakes adds.
Following the Sago explosion in 2006, Rakes was also contacted for his expertise. One of his many interviews was for a Lehrer News Hour special report and he was filmed in his office and the hallways of Old Main on WVU Tech’s campus in Montgomery.