Residents of Blair, West Virginia have noticed increased activity from mining company Arch Coal around the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield site. Members of the town have become more and more concerned about Arch’s activities and fear they are moving forward with plans to mine the Blair Battlefield site. There have been reports of proposed buy outs of resident’s property, increasing industrial activity in the area and other preparations indicative of a move towards mining operations on the battlefield itself. Blair Mountain is the site of the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. In 1921 more than 10,000 coal miners fought forces backed by mining interests in an attempt to organize unions in Logan and Mingo County.
“In the late 1990s, Arch Coal came through and destroyed much of Blair with one mountaintop removal mining operation. The town went from about 700 people to about 90 today. Mountain top removal poisons the drinking water, destroys communities and makes people sick.” says Friends of Blair Mountain executive director, Brandon Nida, who currently lives in Blair. “For the sake of all that is good and right, we must save the people in this town, protect their homes, and save this historic mountain from the decimation and poison of mountaintop removal mining.”
Arch Coal, the second largest coal producer in the United States, has four planned operations that intrude into the Blair Mountain battlefield. They have already begun operations on the Left Fork surface mine, which sits directly adjacent to the battlefield.
According to retired coalminer Joe Stanley, “We know that they are moving quickly in the Blair area. We know that they have land agents trying again to buy from people who have already refused them. And we know they are blasting on the Left Fork permit. So, time is running out for the people of Blair and the battlefield.”
Appalachian filmmaker and Friends of Blair Mountain board member Mari-Lynn Evans says, “Arch Coal is moving the chess pieces in so that they can come in and blast away our heritage. If we wait until they are on the battlefield, it is too late. And they know that.”
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest civil uprising after the Civil War, fought due to protracted grievances between coal miners and the coal operators. It was finally brought to a halt after five days of heavy fighting along the Logan-Boone county lines. Federal troops were called in to quell the conflict.
“Blair Mountain is a national treasure and a critical piece of America’s history,” said Mary Anne Hitt Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Workers fought and died on its slopes for the simple right to represent themselves and win fair working conditions. We will not stop our fight to defend that land and their memory no matter what tactics Arch Coal may use to try and destroy it.”
“Not only is our rich West Virginia history being destroyed by out-of-state coal operators, but the people around me here in Blair are being sickened, blasted, and generally run out of town. It’s not easy watching a town being killed, and unless something is done soon to stop the out-of-control companies, there won’t be a Blair left in six months, or a Blair Mountain,” says Brandon Nida.
Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist and adventure photographer. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content and he is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and OpEdNews. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. Nelson’s book, OccupyDC: As I See It has been called, “The most thorough photographic documentation of the Occupy Movement in Washington DC”.
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