Black Waters No More

Adapted from a sermon preached for the first Sunday in Lent on the Welch, WV, Charge of The United Methodist Church, Feb. 26, 2023, marking the 51st Anniversary of the Buffalo Creek Disaster in Logan County, WV. Based on Matthew 4:1-11

The morning of February 26, 1972
Brought with it not only cold and rain,
But death and destruction on an
Almost unimaginable scale…

51 years ago today three slurry impoundments
Gave way at the head of Buffalo Creek,
Near the town of Man
just up the road in Logan County,
Unleashing 132 million gallons of coal waste
careening down the valley…

The black water formed a wall 30 feet high
As it swept away everything in its path…

16 communities were destroyed,
125 people killed, 1100 injured,
And 4,000  left homeless

It was catastrophic…and totally preventable

“All in an effort to save a buck”

Documents show that Pittston Coal,
who owned the impoundments,
Knew they were constructed poorly
And were poorly maintained
By a failure to comply with
The most basic of safety measures

All in an effort to save a buck

Yet had the audacity to call
The disaster an “act of God”
In an attempt to avoid responsibility

“I didn’t see God a drivin them slate trucks
And wearin a hard hulled cap,” says survivor
Shirley Marcum. “I did not see that
At no time when I visited the dam.
I don’t believe it was an act of God.
It was an act of man”

Yes…man….and satan

It’s the same ole‘ story
Coalfield people been livin‘
For well over a century…

In this constructed wilderness
Where we’ve been exiled for 150 years
Our very lives take a backseat
To the bottom line of the powers
Who claim to provide us with a living

But we shouldn’t be surprised
Or shocked by such evil, injustice, and oppression
Because such is the satanic status quo
To which we are conditioned to comply
Such exploitation is the way
The structures and systems
Of our society operate

And society’s expectation
Is that we comply with the seduction
Of misusing power, self-reliance,
And greed to get ahead at the expense
Of our neighbors

What fast should we choose?

Thank God Jesus says “no!”

Jesus says no I will not comply

Jesus says I refuse to be seduced
By this satanic narrative that
Pits human against human,

That says life is about the survival of the fittest,
That only the strong survive,
And the weak are to be trampled

Jesus says no! I choose the fast
Of Isaiah 58….

I choose to loose the bonds
Of injustice….to let
The oppressed go free

I choose to hunger for justice
And righteousness rather
Than power, glory, and fame

I choose to use my power
To give life, not death

Jesus says I choose
To disrupt this narrative
Constructed by the powers

I choose a life of nonconformity
In a world that demands conformity

I choose life

I choose love

I choose God

Which side are you on?

And in his refusal to bow
To the god of this world, as Paul refers to the Evil One,
Jesus shows us who follow him the path forward
Jesus shows us what it means
To be a citizen of God’s kingdom
Rather than a slave to satan

Not the horned, pointy-tailed,
Hooved red creature depicted
In pop culture…

But THE satan embedded
In the systems and structures
Of our culture

The evil, injustice, and oppression
That the world normalizes, but
Which God despises

So beloved, make this forty days
Of fasting in the wilderness we call Lent
One of failing to comply with
The satanic powers at work around us

Make this fast a refusal to
Be seduced into living
As if you are all that matters,
And that whatever you do
To others to get ahead in life
Is justified

Make this fast a failure to comply
With deflecting responsibility
A failure to comply with
Misuse of power, greed,
Self-reliance, and any other
Action that tears down community
Rather than builds it up

During this wilderness experience
Say no to evil, injustice, and oppression
In whatever forms they present themselves

And in so doing, to quote
The prophet Pete Seeger,
“we shall birth a new world
out of the ashes of the old”

We shall truly observe
A holy Lent

“Black waters no more in my land”

Cross Lanes (WV) native
Kathy Mattea sings a
Gorgeous rendition of
The song “Black Waters,”
Which is about the destruction
Wrought on a family farm
By the opening of a nearby strip mine

But there is a defiant shift
Near the end, where the narrative
Is disrupted and hope
for restoration is celebrated
as the Evil One, just like
at the end of Jesus’s temptation story,
is driven away

“Then I’d sit on the bank
With my bait and my can,
And watch the clear waters
Run down through my land…

Wouldn’t that be just like
The old promised land?

Black waters, black waters
No more in my land”

Church, fail to comply…

And at the end of this wilderness experience,
We shall experience resurrection


Rev. Brad Davis (he/him) is the founder of  The New Society, a grassroots Central Appalachian kingdom movement. A native of one of the nation’s most economically and socially exploited regions, Brad’s passion is connecting its people to a holistic, therapeutic, liberating message of salvation he calls the Holler GospelClick here to read more of Brad‘s work.

Feature image via West Virginia University College of Law (

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