Desperate for work, any work, during the Great Depression, the black men traveled north to work on the Hawk’s Bridge Tunnel. The 1930-31 construction of the 3.8-mile shaft, which diverted the flow of the New River, is considered the greatest industrial tragedy in America. It had been largely forgotten until the bones’ recent discovery.

Historians estimate that anywhere from 450 to 1,500 people died building it. The majority succumbed to acute silicosis, a fatal lung disease caused by breathing silica dust. Most made it back home to die, but not all. Hundreds died here, nearly 500 miles north of Atlanta, in hills far removed from the land they’d known.

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