Jacob “J.W.” Bradley was born on 29 June 1930 and raised in Petros, Tennessee, a small Appalachian coalfield community in the Cumberland Mountains. J.W. married Emma “Kate” Hobbs in 1951.
As an adult, J.W. worked several jobs. At eighteen he got a job working as a coalminer at Rosedale, Tenn. Later J.W. became an electrician at the K-25 nuclear processing plant in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which provided important direct contact with power industry practices. In the 1970s he became concerned about the practice of layer-loading coal – a method where poor quality coal was covered over by higher quality coal and all sold at the market price of the higher quality coal. Bradley claimed that TVA knowingly purchased layer-loaded coal as a source for local steam power plants (including K-25). In 1975 he traveled to Washington, D.C. to appear before a Senate oversight committee hearing on this issue.
Both J.W. and Kate wanted to give back to their community, which at the time only had a prison, and not much else. They co-founded Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) in response to the strip mining that was devastating the area around their home. Around this same time Kate Bradley was working to secure land for a local health clinic. J.W. and Kate received encouragement and support from the Student Health Coalition. The health clinic Kate helped open remained in Petros for many years. SOCM remains in effect, renamed Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment.