As an adult, J.W. worked several jobs. At eighteen he got a job working as a coal miner at Rosedale, Tenn. Later J.W. became an electrician at the K-25 nuclear processing plant in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., 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.
Interview with Kate Bradley and J.W. Bradley by Evangeline Mee, 29 May 2012, Southern Oral History Program, UNC Chapel Hill
Interview with Kate Bradley and J.W. Bradley by Evangeline Mee, 11 August 2012, Southern Oral History Program, UNC Chapel Hill