An Afro-Canadian collier describes how he and his fellow workers survived eight days trapped underground during the 1958 Springhill, Nova Scotia mining disaster.
While Maurice Ruddick rode the trolley to begin his afternoon shift, he sang "The Shiek of Araby" in his lusty baritone. This did not surprise his fellow miners, for Ruddick, one of the few black men employed at the Springhill mine, had quite a reputation for his singing. On the afternoon of October 23, he was cheerfully thinking of his tiny seven-day old daughter, his twelfth child.
The explosion that ripped through the mine several hours later left Ruddick and six others trapped in a small tomb, 4,000 metres underground. And for nine seemingly endless days, Maurice Ruddick cheered his comrades with his singing. He sang hymns, popular tunes, told jokes, anything to keep up their spirits.
"I cried quietly in the darkness, but I made sure nobody else heard me," admitted Ruddick later. "It might have broken their resolve to live."
On the fourth day of their ordeal, Ruddick created a birthday party for 29 year old Garnet Clarke. The men divided their last stale sandwich, and poured their last water into equal sips, while Ruddick led them in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday."
When the draegermen finally broke through the tunnel on the morning of the ninth day, they found Ruddick singing at the top of his lungs. He greeted them with "Give me a drink of water and I'll sing you a song."
Maurice Ruddick modestly underplayed his leadership role, but others felt differently. "If it wasn't for Maurice," declared the mother of one of the miners, "they'd all have been dead."
Maurice Ruddick, along with the other survivors, enjoyed the spotlight briefly in public tributes. But for the black miner, his heroism could not overcome the racial prejudice of the time. The most telling tale of tribute came from the Governor of the state of Georgia. He generously invited the nineteen survivors to vacation at one of his state's luxurious resorts, usually reserved for millionaires. When the Governor discovered that one of the miners was black, he explained that while Ruddick was still invited, he would have to be segregated from the others. "It is the law here that Negroes must be separate," said the Governor.
When the miners heard this, they were reluctant to accept the offer. "There was no segregation down that hole, and there's none in this group," said one miner. But Ruddick agreed to go on the Governor's terms, knowing how much the others really wanted the vacation.
This well-loved, brave, and selfless man died in 1988, an all-but-forgotten hero.
- Maurice Ruddick – Ardon Bess