I’m typically not too taken by letter writing campaigns. However, I was recently sent an email asking for urgent action against the proposed surface mine that would affect Blair Mountain, where the largest uprising in US labor history took place in 1921. If you have the time to print, sign, and send the form letter linked here or even write your own in the next few days (to be received by November 26), hopefully the WV Department of Environmental Protection will receive enough letters to think twice about issuing this permit.
The Aracoma Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, is currently applying for a 554-acre surface mining permit that borders and intrudes into a section of the Blair Mountain battlefield. The application is in the public comment period, letters must be received by November 26th, and Friends of Blair Mountain is asking for your help in generating letters.
The group is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy in stopping this permit from being approved, and yall’s voices are essential. Below is all the information you’ll need to write a strong letter against this application being approved. Letters must be received no later than November 26, 2010.
Four main points:
- Blair Mountain battlefield, site of second largest insurrection in US history, is a major part of American culture.
- The Pine Fork surface mine would negatively impact both the battlefield and the viewshed area of the battlefield, both of which are protected due to the battlefield being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
- The area has not had any archaeological investigations undertaken, and has a high potential for containing significant archaeological resources. A full archaeological survey is needed to assess the extent of archaeological resources in the surface mine permit area.
- With all the other mines in the area, the overall cumulative impact on the Blair Mountain battlefield and surrounding landscape would be severe. Because the topography is integral to understanding the combatant’s movements, it is an archaeological ‘artifact’ in itself and should be protected.
Personal letters are always better, with your own perspective and reasons why you disagree with the permit being issued. But we know that time is limited, and writing letters can be a pain. For those who would rather send a form letter they can print out and sign, then click here.
Letters must include the applicant’s name (Aracoma Coal Company, Inc.) and the application number (S-5035-08). See example here. Letters must arrive no later than Nov. 26, 2010, and should be sent to:
WV DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation
1101 George Kostas Dr.
Logan, WV 25601
Like I said, I’m typically a bit cynical about letter writing, but this site is tremendously important both in terms of historical memory and in its archaeological potential. Anything that can be done to protect Blair Mountain should be, and if letter writing is where we start, I think it’s frankly stupid not to contribute.
Here’s a segment from my paper on WV labor history discussing the Battle of Blair Mountain:
At the beginning of 1921, Sid Hatfield (the pro-union chief of police in Matewan, WV) and fifteen others were tried for the murder of Albert Felts in the Matewan Massacre, but a union-friendly jury acquitted all of them (Corbin 215); the only way the Baldwin-Felts men could see to get revenge was to take matters into their own hands, and, on August 1 of that year, two Baldwin-Felts guards gunned down the unarmed Hatfield on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse (Batteau 112). What Batteau refers to as “the murder of this hero” (113) set off a string of protests in the miners’ camps in Mingo County, and armed miners began marching toward Blair Mountain, south of the state capital of Charleston. Estimates of the numbers of armed miners range from 5,000 to 20,000: Batteau suggests 10,000 (113), while Corbin increases this to between 15,000 and 20,000 (219). The previously mentioned blending of class and racial consciousness played out here among the “estimated 2,000 black miners, mainly union men from the Kanawha-New River Field” (Trotter 112) who marched on Blair Mountain.
The march to Blair Mountain was directed in large part toward Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County whose vehement anti-union activities, including commanding the army pitted against the miners at Blair Mountain, had earned him the ire of miners throughout the state. Chafin’s army was equipped with machine guns and bomber planes, as well as over 2,000 men. Yet the miners were not only organized across racial lines, they came together as disparate communities to form one, united group: “Exploitation, oppression, and injustice had created a common identity and solidarity among the miners, and their geographic mobility had turned the hundreds of seemingly isolated company towns into a single gigantic community,” writes Corbin (219). It was this mass combined with the complete secrecy about organization and leadership that allowed the miners to hold off Chafin’s army in a week-long fight to ascend Blair Mountain (Corbin 221). At the point that the miners were preparing to descend the mountain to Mingo and Logan Counties, the federal government was finally convinced to act, and President Harding ordered an additional 2,500 troops plus machine guns, bombs, and bomber planes to the region, and the miners were forced to surrender (Corbin 224). Though bombs were dropped, there were only around 100 deaths (Trotter 112) in what has been termed the largest armed labor uprising in United States history. Chafin kept his power, and the union was defeated, but this event remains one of the most significant moments in this country’s labor history.
Miners from all races and ethnicities as well as from widely unconnected geographic locations were able to come together to fight the dominant power, and the fact that they were unable to win simply proves the entrenchedness of the coal operators’ power structure, which has grown since the 1920s. In all the accounts I have encountered, writers insist on the sobriety and seriousness of the miners – this was not simply moonshinin’, guntotin’ rednecks’ attempt to fight the law, it was a highly organized battle that had a clear goal, and its fighters were outgunned and overpowered. Because the coal operators won, they were the ones who established how the story of Blair Mountain was retold and later how easily it was forgotten. Even today, coal owners would rather West Virginians forget this part of our history, because, without this event in our minds, it is easier to exploit the state and its people for coal – if we do not truly understand our own history, we have no real inspiration to stand up to coal companies today.
Please do show your support for the protection of this site. Thanks in advance to all of you who take the time to do this.