Stop Coal Companies From Erasing Labor Union History
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest armed conflict on American soil since the Civil War and the largest labor confrontation ever. It erupted when more than 10,000 West Virginia coal miners confronted an industry-backed army for a week in 1921. The miners were fighting to gain collective bargaining rights, to escape the domination of coal operators, and for the basic right to live and work in decent, safe conditions.
The history of Blair Mountain is that of all Americans.
The coal miners who worked and struggled during the West Virginia Mine Wars formed a rock-hard union solidarity that diffused to the rest of the nation through the Appalachian outmigration that has occurred from the 1930s until today. They went to steel foundries in Pittsburgh, the car factories in Detroit, and the mills in Ohio. They carried with them the memory and heritage of the labor struggles in central Appalachia, and they were a major force in building the labor unions that in themselves helped build the prosperous middle class of the 20th century.
Blair Mountain stands at the heart of American prosperity, and the coal miners who fought and died there did so for the basic freedom of living and working in decent, safe conditions.
But most people have never heard of Blair Mountain. That's because West Virginia has, for years, resisted preserving or commemorating the site. Nowadays, major coal companies Arch Coal and Massey Energy (the one responsible for the deadly explosion last April) own a lot of the land and hold permits to blast away the landscape for the most devastating of all coal mining practices: Mountaintop removal mining. They literally want to erase history here.
This can be stopped. If only the National Register of Historic Places would list the site, then its preservation would be required. Except that federal official ultimately turned down a listing this year -- amid objections of 57 "landowners" filed by the state. According to activists, however, this list is flawed and some of these people are even dead. And, already, Friends of Blair Mountain has documented the disturbance of five locations on the 1,700 acre site.
Tell Interior Department officials and the state of West Virginia to save the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain without delay. It's time to stop the destruction of West Virginia and preserve this one small example of rebellion from the grip of Big Coal.
P.S. From June 4th-11th, supporters will unite for a weeklong solidarity march on Blair Mountain.The March on Blair Mountain is a peaceful, unifying rally involving environmental justice organizations, workers, scholars, artists, and other citizens and groups. The march commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain. It will start in Charleston, West Virginia and end 50 miles later with a rally at Blair Mountain. Please consider attending if you can!
- Barbara Wyatt, Historian Reviewer
National Register of Historic Places
- Susan Pierce, Deputy Historic Preservation Officer
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
- West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
I recently learned that the National Register of Historic Places de-listed the Battle of Blair Mountain site based on dubious objections from 51 local landowners, some of whom are not even alive. This alone should be reason for the Interior Department to reconsider its decision.
As a supporter of Friends of Blair Mountain, I would like to see this unique site in the history of the U.S. labor movement preserved. We cannot allow coal companies to blast away this site and erase their past.
It is not only an important piece of history, it is symbolic of the current struggle to make sure West Virginia's coal mining industry respects communities, the environment, and the safety and health of today's mining workers.
I urge you to use your authority to protect the Battle of Blair Mountain site and prevent surface mining on these historic lands.
Thank you for your attention to this matter,
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