It’s a small sliver of a mountain town. Tucked between The Kanawha River on one side and the West Virginia Turnpike on the other with sharp mountain ridges beyond that.
There’s a “Now Hiring” sign on the local Ace Hardware, a youth bake sale at the Marmet Community Church and a free blood pressure screening going on down at the Volunteer Fire Department. Across the street at the old Elementary School it’s almost time to party.
Every Saturday night for the past seven years, local insurance agent Les Pullin has been opening the doors for the Kanawha Valley Jamboree. Seven bucks gets you three hours of dancing with your special someone or setting on the bleachers watching the dancers turn on the floor.
As Les hands out coffee, donuts, soft drinks and free advice, his son-in-law, Jackie Phillips is outside greeting people as they enter the gravel parking lot in their just-washed four wheel drive pickups.
It’s a job that Jackie loves…and appreciates. Three years ago he was given 90 days to live after being diagnosed with cancer. Cancer that may or may not be connected to the coal mining and resultant environmental devastation that is taking place close to this small sliver of a mountain town.
As the music dances out of the Kanawha Valley Jamboree, across the street, men and women sweat in a former furniture store. The building is normally empty, but this week it is the headquarters of the Appalachian Rising: March on Blair Mountain.
Over 600 people from all over the country have registered to be a part of the re-enactment of the 1921 march that saw approximately 2500 miners march up the snaking, two lane road to stand up for their rights and safety. Not just willing to stand up for the right to work in safe conditions, they were also willing to die for a cause which they believed in. Knowing full well that Sheriff Dan Chafin, Sheriff of Logan County, was stationed on top of Blair Mountain with his private army, the miners set off from this small sliver of a mountain town. Some walked into eternity.
The law enforcement agencies in the area do not seem as though they want the march to happen. Citing safety concerns over 600 people marching 50 miles on a narrow, twisting two lane road seems to be the card that they will play Monday to stop the demonstration. What will the organizers do?
They have three choices. One option is to call off the march. Another option is to break the 600 registered marchers into groups of 25 or so and allow the smaller groups to continue. Or they could take the position of the original miners and follow their hearts to the destination…wherever that may be.
Either way it goes, there’s something in common despite being separated by 90 years of history. It all began in a small sliver of a mountain town.