A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
Over Labor Day weekend last year I called a distant cousin, Mitch Cundiff, to ask if he could take me to Paradise. The old town is just a few miles from his home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where my grandmother grew up. He told me he was happy to, but there was nothing there to see. “It’s like the John Prine song says,” he explained. “They hauled it away.”
In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.