Specialty ‘coal’ plates popular in many regions

The specialty license plates are many and varied in most states, and some of them get much more support than others. “Friends of Coal” is highly popular in the Blue Grass State and is featured by nearby states.

West Virginia uses that theme, with the same phrase as Kentucky, “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” Virginia’s specialty plate features “The Power Behind America’s Future” as its catch phrase.

“Friends of Coal West” has been selected as the theme for the state of Colorado. Interestingly, Wyoming as the leading coal producing state in the USA has not taken a similar approach. The Cowboy State lists 12 specialty license plates, none referring to coal.

Pennsylvania has promoted “Trump Digs Coal” and has a likeness of a Pennsylvania miner on one of its specialty plates.

“Coal evokes a rich oral, musical, and cultural legacy …” wrote David Roberts shortly after Pineville’s Jimmy Rose appeared on the television show “America’s Got Talent” in 2013.

It was Rose’s presentation of an original song, “Coal Keeps the Lights On” that captured the attention of the country and evoked a long essay by Roberts for a non-profit news organization, Grist.

In his essay, Roberts pointed out that the television show was watched “…by around 10 million people a week.” He didn’t mention that through the years, Kentucky and some of her sister states have produced other singers and song writers whose themes related to the coal mines, to miners, and to coal miners’ daughters.

He’s not exactly a friend of coal mining, but Roberts acknowledges that “…coal has been woven into the fabric of Appalachian life for more than a century. It’s not a job, it’s a cultural identity.” And that factor led to Jimmy Rose’s success in 2013 and to the emphasis placed on the importance of coal in song and story. Now four years later, the “Friends of Coal” statement has added significantly to the legacy.

Although there is great variety among Kentucky specialty licenses plates, the phrase “Coal Keeps the Lights On” appears to be number one in popularity in the state [most reports indicate that as many as 47,000 friends of coal have purchased that plate for the back of their cars, trucks, and motorcycles this year].

As you might expect, with such popularity in the Blue Grass State and elsewhere, entrepreneurs are taking advantage of that popularity by producing stickers, flags, mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads and business cards. For them, it’s ingenuity, promotion, and sales that keep the lights on and the cash registers ringing. All based on the importance of the coal industry to the residents in this part of the USA.

William H. Baker, Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident, may be contacted at wbaker@limestone.edu