National Archives Showcases Historical Coal Mining Communities with New Photography Exhibit


Through photographs from a 1946 survey, the National Archives is highlighting the diverse lives of coal miners and their families in Power & Light: Russell Lee's Coal Survey, a new exhibit opening on March 16, 2024. The exhibit, which shares more than 200 photographs of renowned documentary photographer Russell Lee, is free and open to the public at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, through July 6, 2025.

Power & Light serves as an example of how records can impact the lives of Americans,” said Archivist of the United States Dr. Colleen Shogan. “These valuable photographs held by the National Archives helped change the narrative around the coal strikes at the time. Today, they provide us a glimpse into the rich history of coal communities across the country.”

Following the 1946 labor strikes that had been held across the United States, photographer Russell Lee gained unprecedented access to remote coal communities. As part of a survey conducted by the federal government, he documented miners in 13 states. Lee recorded detailed captions with his wife Jean, which are presented without edits in this exhibit alongside the images they describe. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit calls attention to spaces that were typically inaccessible to outsiders.

Visitors will be able to:

  • View a handwritten note from President Truman regarding the coal strike
  • Interact with a map displaying survey photographs from various states
  • View the final survey report from 1947
  • Learn about the company-dependent home lives and conditions of workers
  • View protest notes on coal bags sent by citizens to President Truman

Lee’s photographs served as visual evidence of the miners’ plight and helped build support for the workers whose strikes had alienated many Americans. The images tell the story of laborers who helped build the nation, of a moment when the government took stock of their health and safety, and of a photographer who recognized their humanity. 

The survey's digitized images can be found in the National Archives’ online Catalog and photographs from the exhibit on Flickr. Follow the conversation online using the hashtag #ArchivesPowerAndLight. 

The National Archives Building is located near the National Mall on Constitution Ave. at 9th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. The exhibit galleries are open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For media inquiries, please contact the National Archives Public and Media Communications Office at 202-357-5300 or

Power & Light: Russell Lee’s Coal Survey is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of The Mars Family & Mars, Incorporated and Anonymous.

About the National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation's record keeper. It safeguards and manages the official records of the U.S. Government, ensuring the documentation of our nation's history. For more information, visit

About the National Archives Foundation

The National Archives Foundation is an independent nonprofit that increases public awareness of the National Archives, inspires a deeper appreciation of our country's heritage, and encourages citizen engagement in our democracy. Learn more at