MAC: Mines and Communities

Hundreds march to save Blair Mountain

Published by MAC on 2011-06-13
Source: Charleston Gazette & Mail, AP, Huffington Post,

For five days they marched against  two coal companies, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resource (formerly Massey Energy).

Around three hundred people, drawn from across the US and beyond, converged on Blair Mountain in West Virgina, retracing the historic steps of mineworkers in 1921 who tried to establish their right to form a union.

Ninety years ago, at least 16 of the marchers were shot dead by troops and company-hired guns.

This time around, the response was markedly different. But whether president Obama will finally put an end to the ignoble practice of "mountain-top destruction" remains an open question.

Previous article on MAC:- US Pension funds demand justice from Massey Energy

Hundreds marching 5 days to save W.Va. mountain

By Vicki Smith

Associated Press

6 June 2011

BLAIR, W.Va. - On this steep-sided mountain in West Virginia's southern coalfields, hundreds will retrace the steps of miners who waged the nation's largest armed uprising since the Civil War, hoping 90 years later to protect the site of that bloody battle.

Marchers to Blair Mountain
Marchers to Blair Mountain.

The protesters will retell the story of the 7,500 to 10,000 unionizing coal miners who fought for principles that helped shape today's U.S. labor laws - and, they hope, keep Blair Mountain from becoming just another barren, flat-topped strip mine.

Much of the coal-rich mountain is owned by two energy companies fighting efforts to put it on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation wouldn't automatically stop mining, but it could complicate and slow down the review process.

Some proposed operations on Blair Mountain already have permits and one mine is active, but the coal companies haven't disclosed immediate plans to start blasting on the battlefield.

The protesters set out Monday from Marmet and will march 50 miles over five days, traversing narrow country roads where coal trucks often pass, walking the same route the miners took in the summer of 1921.

As they started down the street, State Police troopers told them not to display signs urging motorists to slow down. Such signs, the troopers said, can only be used by law enforcement and the Division of Highways. They also warned the group to march single-file when they got beyond city limits.

As they walked, one trooper followed along, filming.

Wilma Steele, a 60-year-old art teacher at Gilbert High School and the wife of a retired underground miner, wants people to connect with the mountain's history and realize the cannonballs and shell casings that lie here are not merely artifacts.

"And Blair Mountain is more than just a mountain," Steele says. "It was a chance for people to get over their differences and stand up for what's right."

The miners marched for what was then unthinkable: They wanted to be paid by the hour, not the ton. They wanted a week that lasted five days, not seven. They wanted black miners and white miners paid the same.

They'd been trying to unionize for three years, and they'd had enough when a key ally, Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield, was killed by a coal company's private security guards.

On the battlefield of Blair Mountain - some 1,600 acres stretched across 10 miles of ridgeline - the miners met a dug-in army of law enforcement officers and hired guns who had fortified pickets, protective trenches, homemade bombs and machine guns.

At least 16 men died before the miners surrendered to the federal troops who arrived Sept. 5.

Back then, the marchers tied red bandannas around their necks to identify themselves. They scrambled through the brush carrying rifles and pistols.

Today's marchers - an alliance of historic preservationists, environmental activists and even a few underground miners - carry painted sheets held aloft by bamboo poles.

Like an army on the move, they have support vehicles, too - a trailer with three portable lavatories and others loaded with water, backpacks and sleeping bags. They expected to encounter opposition and met the first knot of industry defenders before they got out of Marmet.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Vance, her face deliberately blackened with coal dust, held a homemade sign with the red words "tree huggers" inside a blue circle with a slash.

"We support coal," said Vance, whose father, brother and uncle all work in the industry.

The battlefield on Blair Mountain was briefly on the National Register of Historic Places but later removed. Federal law bars sites from inclusion if a majority of landowners object, and after a review of the dissenters, state and federal agencies reviewing the case ruled opponents dominated.

Those who want to preserve the battlefield appealed, and the fight continues in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Much of the mountain is now owned by St. Louis-based Arch Coal and Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, which last week bought out Massey Energy and has an active strip mine just over a ridge from the battlefield. Neither coal company commented on the protest.

Last week, six groups including the Sierra Club and the National Trust for Historic Preservation took a new tack: They petitioned the state Department of Environmental Protection to declare the battlefield unsuitable for surface mining because of its historical significance and beauty.

Spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the agency is reviewing the 200-page document.

The United Mine Workers of America is siding with the preservationists in the court fight but isn't participating in the march.

President Cecil Roberts, whose great-uncle Bill Blizzard marched in 1921, said his ancestor "wasn't thinking about whether the streams along the base of the mountain ran clear or not."

"He was thinking about the near-slavery conditions coal miners and their families were forced to endure. He was thinking about how to make their lives better," Roberts wrote in a recent newspaper opinion piece.

Chuck Keeney will be retracing the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Frank Keeney, who was president of the UMWA in West Virginia in 1921. A leader of the insurrection, he was later acquitted of treason.

Keeney grew up hearing the story of Blair Mountain at family reunions and visits with his grandparents. That story of the American labor movement was not, he said, taught in the sanitized state history course required of West Virginia eighth-graders.

"That's one of the reasons it's so endangered - because so many people are unaware that an incredible event happened here," said Keeney, a history professor at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Twelve years ago, Jimmy Weekley organized a similar march. It drew only a fraction of the 600 registered to walk this week.

Weekley, 71, is the last resident of lush and peaceful Pigeon Roost Hollow, below the proposed 2,300-acre site of Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal mine. In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revoked a crucial water permit for the project.

Mountaintop removal mining is an efficient but especially destructive form of strip mining that blasts the tops off mountains to expose multiple seams of coal. Rubble is often dumped into nearby valleys, burying streams.

The Spruce mine would have been the largest in West Virginia, burying 7 miles of streams under rubble, including the babbling branch that runs past Weekley's front porch.

As a boy, he caught trout from the stream on a pole his mother made, using crocheting thread for line and a safety pin for a hook.

Mining has all but destroyed Blair, Weekley says, but he believes Blair Mountain still has a future. It could become a national historical park that could bring economic development to Logan County.

He reckons the descendants of coal miners across the country would come to learn about their forefathers. There could be a sightseeing train with tour guides, he says. Riding trails. Hiking trails. Picnic grounds.

"The potential's here if they would just follow through with us."
On the Net:

Friends of Blair Mountain:

W.Va. Division of Culture and History:

Blair Mountain Emergency: Obama Is Obliged by Deathtoll to Order Mountaintop Removal Moratorium

By Jeff Biggers

Huffington Post

8 June 2011

Almost ninety years ago, an emergency crisis of unconscionable human suffering, government neglect and coal company lawlessness compelled thousands of coal miners and impoverished World War I veterans to tramp through the back roads of West Virginia and attempt to liberate terrorized mining camps that had been denied any right to union organizing.

While it took another 12 years of tragic deprivation in the coalfields for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, granting all coal miners and laborers the legal right to join a union without repercussions, a group of besieged residents from the central Appalachian coalfields is holding a press conference in Washington, DC today to deliver a similarly urgent message of an emergency crisis of unconscionable human suffering, government neglect and coal company lawlessness to the Obama administration and the US Congress:

If the safety, health and civil rights of all Americans are protected by the same laws, then our nation's President and lawmakers are obliged by the staggering health and human rights crises and mounting deathtoll in the central Appalachian coalfields to call for an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal operations.

With that same Blair Mountain battlefield area now threatened by strip-mining destruction, hundreds of marchers are peacefully re-enacting the historic March on Blair Mountain this week in a nonviolent celebration to remind the nation that the safety and health of coal miners and coal mining communities must be placed above the profit interests of union-busting absentee coal companies.

It's time to bring the mountaintop removal war on Appalachia to an end.

While providing less than 5-8 percent of our national coal production, the millions of pounds of daily explosives detonated for mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee account for the most egregious human rights and environmental violations in our nation--and the unrecognized reality of regulated manslaughter.

While EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has openly acknowledged the unacceptable health consequences of mountaintop removal, the Obama administration has chosen to follow an admittedly failed compliance policy and 40-year rap sheet of criminally neglectful regulatory practices that have left central Appalachian communities in desperate ruin.

"Mountaintop removal is a serious threat to America's water supply," says Coal River Valley resident and Vietnam veteran Bo Webb. Living under the fallout of lethal silica and coal dust explosions, Webb has called for mandated health surveys to measure the impact of strip-mining operations on affected residents prior to any blasting. Webb adds: "Mountaintop removal eliminates jobs. It eliminates entire mountain communities in Appalachia. It is killing real people. In the interest of public health, it is the duty of every member of Congress to end this horrific crime."

The tombstone of 22-year-old Joshua McCormick -- who succumbed to kidney cancer in 2009 in the Prenter Hollow area in West Virginia, one of the most lethal coal slurry-contaminated and Clean Water Act-violated places in the nation -- remains a landmark no less important than Blair Mountain in the government's failure to enforce the Clean Water Act.

As a survivor of the Martin County, Kentucky coal slurry impoundment break in 2000, one of the worst environmental crime coverups in modern history, Mickey McCoy watched 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge drown his area's waterways and settlements. With violation-ridden mountaintop removal blasting legally taking place near similar faulty slurry impoundments across the region, threatening the lives of thousands of residents like irresponsible accidents waiting to happen, McCoy simply concludes: "Mountaintop removal is annihilating an entire culture, and politicians who support this genocide need to be charged as accessories to murder."

Exaggerated claims? In memory of Jeremy Davidson, who was crushed to death by a boulder dislodged by a mountaintop removal operation in Virginia in 2004, McCoy's fellow Kentuckians and children have written poems begging for the coal companies and government regulators "to show mercy on the culture we love."

With nearly 1.5 million acres of American geography erased from our maps by mountaintop removal operations, Appalachia is dealing with an emergency situation of historic proportions.

Will it take a catastrophic disaster and display of dead bodies for the nation to deal with the mountaintop removal crisis?

As the forced removal of citizens from Twilight and Lindytown in West Virginia and scores of historic coal-rich settlements across Appalachia and the nation testify -- -as the largest forced removal of American citizens since the mid-19th century -- McCoy's charges of historicide and oblivion can be verified by the ruins of razed and abandoned communities.

This is why the protection of Blair Mountain's history is so critical: War veterans and coal miners died on that battlefield in 1921 to protect our nation's most sacred rights of life, liberty and true democracy. After shameless political machinations, the return of the Blair Mountain battlefield to the National Registry must be accompanied by an immediate moratorium of all mountaintop removal operations until the health and safety and human rights of affected citizens today -- like the afflicted coal miners in 1921 -- are guaranteed.

"For generations," says West Virginia filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans, "Appalachians have been enslaved by the coal industry and their political allies. Our ancient mountains are being destroyed and our people are being sacrificed for corporate greed and political ambition. Our very survival as a culture depends on the EPA. We are here today to call upon them to regulate this rogue industry and save our home -- Appalachia."

Blair Mountain marchers come from far, wide

By Zack Harold

Charleston Daily Mail

10 June 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Supporters from across the country and around the world are participating in this week's March on Blair Mountain, with a few traveling to West Virginia from Australia, Japan and France.

Other protesters hail from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, California and Alaska.

March spokesman Brandon Nida said a little more than 300 marchers were on the road Thursday. He said about half of the protesters participating in the event are from outside Appalachia. Two marchers are from Australia, two more are from France and one is from Japan.

"It's been a really good mix of a lot of people," he said.

Nida said the march has been a "West Virginia-driven event" from the beginning, however.

Two groups, the Friends of Blair Mountain and Appalachia Rising, formed the Blair Mountain March Coalition to organize the march.

The Friends of Blair Mountain is a group committed to preserving the land. Appalachia Rising is an anti-mountaintop removal organization with representatives around the East Coast.

Nida said group leaders started brainstorming a commemorative Blair Mountain march a few years ago, but organization efforts didn't formally begin until January of this year. At that time, 30 to 40 volunteers were working full time to get the march together.

Protesters are emulating the infamous 1921 march to Blair Mountain, when thousands of coal miners from Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Mingo, McDowell and Logan counties planned a march to Logan and Mingo to free jailed union members.

The group never made it there. State Police dispatched by Gov. Ephraim Morgan, along with volunteer militiamen and coal company employees, met the miners at Blair Mountain, where the two sides clashed. Several people died in the conflict, but no exact death toll was recorded.

These modern marchers are pushing for the preservation of Blair Mountain, which could be surface-mined by the coal companies that now own it. They also are calling for an end to all mountaintop removal mining, more unionization at West Virginia coal mines and "safe, sustainable jobs" for the area, according to a press release.

The coalition used social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the photo-sharing site Flickr to rally support and keep participants up-to-date with march arrangements. Supporters are now using those sites to declare themselves as "virtual marchers."

The group also set up, where staffers have posted regular updates on marchers' progress.

Nida said the coalition has raised more than $30,000 to cover its expenses. He said the group has raised $10,000 of that in the last day or so.

The money has come pouring in from around the globe via the Internet, Nida said. He said supporters also have donated money as marchers pass through their areas, giving a couple dollars here and there. He estimated the march has raised more than $500 that way.

All protest participants are working on a volunteer basis, he said.

Other financial supporters include UMW Local 1440, based in Matewan, which donated $500. Appalachian Voices, an environmental group working in central and southern Appalachia, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a Huntington-based environmental group, also contributed money to the protest.

The march began on Monday morning, with between 200 and 300 people attending the kick-off rally in Marmet. Organizers chose Marmet as a starting point because that's where the original Blair Mountain marchers began their trek.

The headquarters has become much more than an organizing spot after the march began. Unable to secure sleeping accommodations along the march route, organizers have shuttled marchers back to the group's Marmet headquarters every night.

Boone County officials asked the protesters to leave John Slack Park in Racine on Monday night, and camping arrangements at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and Big Earl's Campground, a commercial campground near Julian, also fell through.

Nida said the marchers haven't let those malfunctions bring them down.

Blair Mountain march nears end

By Paul J. Nyden

Charleston Gazette

9 June 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The March on Blair Mountain continued on Thursday, as marchers headed toward Blair on the border of Boone and Logan counties. They planned to end their daily trek on Thursday at Mifflin Lake, about 12 miles south of Madison.

Rebecca Rast, a spokeswoman for Appalachia Rising -- the group coordinating the 50-mile march -- said, "The march is going really well. We got lots of supportive honks from passing cars today.

"We have grown from 75 people a couple of days ago to 325 today. We are expecting 1,500 people in Blair on Saturday."

The marchers plan to leave Mifflin Lake this morning, Friday 10th June, and head to the town of Blair, ending their 50-mile, five-day march. On Saturday morning, marchers and other people will gather at the baseball field in Blair at 10 a.m. for a rally and a march up the mountain later in the day.

"Things are really going smoothly. Our marchers are staying healthy and hydrated. We are feeling excited about getting to Blair. The real goal is to save Blair Mountain and stop mountaintop removal," Rast said.

The march commemorates the famous Battle of Blair Mountain, waged in late August and early September 1921 between union miners, on one side, and deputies and coal company guards from Logan County, on the other.

Today's marchers want to preserve the historic mountain, end mountaintop removal mining and promote labor rights.

In 1921, the White House sent in federal troops to stop what turned out to be the largest armed confrontation in American labor history. Union miners then returned to their homes.

Massey Energy, now part of Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal have both expressed an interest in developing mountaintop removal operations on Blair Mountain.

Joe Stanley, one of the marchers and a retired union miner from the Matewan local, said on Thursday, "Kevin Crutchfield [chief executive officer of Alpha Natural Resources] needs to pull the company's request for a mountaintop removal mine.

"They need to pledge not to do mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain. That would show they are as sincere as their television commercials imply and take things in a new direction."

Ted Pyle and Rick Nida, Alpha Natural Resources spokesmen in Abingdon, Va., did not return telephone calls on Wednesday or Thursday.

Bob Henry Baber, the Mountain Party nominee in the upcoming October gubernatorial election, plans to join the marchers in Blair on Saturday.

"Symbolically, the very idea that the cradle of America's labor union heritage is on the block to be decapitated defies logic and comprehension. Would we ever consider destroying the graves of soldiers or desecrating Native American battle scenes?" Baber asked in a press release issued Thursday.

"Thank God we have brave people, like the miners of old, who are willing to sacrifice today to remind us of the struggles for justice in the past -- the same struggles which continue to this very day."

Saturday's rally will feature singers Emmylou Harris and Kathy Mattea and actress Ashley Judd. Environmental activist and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and author Denise Giardina will be among the speakers.

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