Jack Bailey, a resident of Welch.

‘I’m a registered Democrat, but the Democratic Party ain’t for the working people anymore. Hilary Clinton lied on so many issues that I can’t trust her for anything.’ ~ Jack Bailey

McDowell is a mountain county in the southern part of West Virginia, which was one of the president-elect’s strongholds. Trump swept West Virginia and hammered Hillary Clinton in McDowell by taking 91.5 percent of the vote in the Republican primary and 76 percent of the vote in the general election. Clinton only received 23 percent of the vote in the county.

But resist the urge to paint its residents with a broad brush or stereotype them because of their accents and their small town ways. The story of McDowell is more complex than that and the reasons they moved towards Trump are rooted in an economic decline that has been mounting for the past three decades.

Before I traveled to McDowell County, I had preconceived notions toward the residents, expecting I would have to deal with narrow-minded people. However, my experience was exactly the opposite. The residents I met were some of the most decent, friendly and hardworking people I have met in the U.S., so far. They welcomed me as a friend; they opened their houses, and even though we disagreed on many issues, they were open to discuss them.

McDowell County was established at 1858.
McDowell County was established at 1858.

The once prosperous and bustling McDowell county was established in 1858 and grew to 100,000 residents in the 1950-60’s, back when coal mines ran 3 shifts a day. The county is more of a melting pot than you might expect, as people from all over came here to work in the mines. In many cases, people from different backgrounds fought side-by-side to protest the inhumane working conditions in the mines. And maybe, there is an unexpected tolerance of other perspectives because the “enemy” here isn’t other people but a lack of economic opportunity that doesn’t discriminate against one political party or the other.

Today, with almost all the mines closed, unemployment is more than double the national average. McDowell County ranks second from the bottom in the life expectancy of both male and female residents. Men live an average of 63.5 years and females live an average of 71.5 years.

McDowell’s story is one of frustration, despair and, yes, hope that a Trump administration can turn things around.

All images © 2016 Dimitrios Manis. He likes to be where the story is and is ready to go anywhere in the world to cover it. For the last 15 years, he has worked as a journalist, photographer and video editor in the U.S. and Greece. Currently, he works as a freelance photojournalist in Washington D.C. You can see more of Dimitrios’ work on his website.

Welch Resident Ed Shepard, a 93-year-old WWII Veteran.

‘I didn’t vote in this Election. I see no meaning of this. Whoever goes to the White House will do whatever he/she wants to do and won’t give a damn about us.’ ~ Ed Shepard.

One of 3 remaining coal mining companies in the city of Welch

The main source of income for McDowell County residents is derived from coal mining industry. During the 1950s and 1960s, the population was boomed and reached more than 100,000 residents. After that period, though, the mining industry started to go down and the population started to decline. Today, the county has less than 20,000 residents.

John Belcher, a resident of Kimball.

‘In this election, we had two shitty choices and we chose the shit that stink less.’ ~ John Belcher

In the 1990s, the United States Steel Corporation closed all mines and facilities operated in McDowell county, terminating more than 1,200 jobs.
Michael Acosta, a resident of Kimball.

‘The politicians for the last few years are taking our jobs and put everybody to unemployment. They want us to live with unemployment benefits so that they can control us. I don’t want their money; I want a job. I voted for Trump, because I think he will fix the economy, not only here, but in the whole country.’ ~ Michael Acosta

Lydia Morgan, a small business owner in Welch.

 ‘I voted for Trump because I like that he says what he thinks no matter what. I am like that too. Also, I couldn’t disagree more with Hilary Clinton in the abortion issue.’ ~ Lydia Morgan

McDowell County Commissioner Cecil Dale Patterson.

 ‘All these years we voted for politicians that promised everything and did nothing. Our county is dying and nobody cares. So, this time we voted for somebody out of this group. I don’t know if he will do what he said, but let’s give this man a chance. Look at us, we have nothing to lose!’ ~ Dale Patterson

Welch police officer Pat McKinney with his daughter Kara.

‘We had two candidates in this election and one of them said that she was going to shut down all the mining business in the country. The people of Welch live from the mining industry. So they did what they had to do to protect their jobs and their families. We love this place and we don’t want to leave. But if there are no mining jobs, there is nothing else to do up here.’ ~ Pat McKinney

Pit Burks' house in Welch.

‘Hilary Clinton left me no choice. Her stance against the mining industry would be a disaster for my city, me and my family.’ ~ Pit Burks

In 2013, McDowell County ranked second from the bottom in the life expectancy of both male and female residents. Males in McDowell County lived an average of 63.5 years and females lived an average of 71.5 years.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the 1980s, the central Appalachian region lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs and no county was more severely distressed by these losses than McDowell County.

As the poverty is rising, drug trafficking and addiction became a major problem in McDowell County. Gary Gilbert was a drug addict for more than 20 years and the last two years is clean.

‘Life here is really hard. There are no jobs, no money, no future. So, when you are high you dont feel the depression, you are happy. I couldn’t vote but if I could I would vote for Trump cause I believe he will bring back our jobs.’ ~ Gary Gilbert

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