Save Blair Mountain
This letter was written to, but as yet unprinted by, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
Any West Virginian that knows their history will perk their ears when they hear talk of Blair Mountain. In 1921 conflict between a fledgling West Virginia coal union and coal company opposition came to a head when thousands of coal miners, many wearing red bandanas around their necks as a symbol of their beliefs and solidarity, marched to Blair Mountain in Logan County, rifles in hand, to fight for their rights. On the mountain they were met by paid company “thugs”, as they were called, private planes that served as bombers, police, and eventually federal troops and U.S. army bombers.
It is not clear how many men died on either side, nor how many were wounded. Numbers are especially vague on the miners’ side, as the miner-army was not well organized, but many historians believe that the dead numbered near one-hundred for the miners and thirty for the opposition. For many West Virginians this is not just detached history, something that happened in the past and we have no connection to. My ancestors marched on that mountain, and my father proudly keeps one of the rifles used in that battle in his gun cabinet, a family heirloom that no doubt will be passed to me one day as it was passed down to him.
Now in 2010 Blair Mountain is under attack once more. Recent years have seen a struggle between environmentalists and historians that successfully placed Blair Mountain on the National Historic Registry last year and coal companies that wish to mine the battlefield. Law regarding whether or not the site can be placed on the registry states that a certain number of residents in the area must want the area to be listed. Residents have gone back and forth on the issue, and currently there seems to be enough opposition to allow the site to be revoked from the National Historic Registry, which has officially occurred.
Sons of West Virginia bled and died on that mountain as they struggled for their rights and we are on the cusp of seeing historical protection of this important West Virginia battlefield stripped away forever- both literally and figuratively. When one day I pass that rifle down to the next generation I do not want to have to tell them that the people of West Virginia allowed the historic site of Blair Mountain to be leveled for the sake of coal company profit margins.
It is inconceivable that any other battlefield would be taken off the registry. No one would propose mining under a Revolutionary War or Civil War battlefield. Is the blood spilled by West Virginia miners any less important than the blood of any other soldier, is the ground that drank it up any less hallowed? It is time for the people of West Virginia to honor the men that died on Blair Mountain, not only for the blood spilled, but for their efforts to change an industry that abused and exploited the sons and daughters of West Virginia. Write to your congressman, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller, Governor Manchin, and even President Obama and voice your disdain for allowing our state’s and our ancestors’ history to be stripped away for the benefit of big business.
John M. McCormick