Front Porch Blog

Blair Mountain is History Worth Keeping

In 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, federal troops looked through their crosshairs at 1000s of ramshackle coal-miners. On the 1,600-acre Spruce Fork Ridge of Blair Mountain, there was a showdown between an army of at least 7,500 miners and 3,000-man defensive force “bolstered by private planes that dropped homemade bombs on the miners.”

The miners – abused, exploited, and upset by lack of working conditions, living conditions, and lack of collective bargaining ability, had taken up arms. The United Mine Workers of America had been working to organize workers in the coalfields, due to constant oppression and tight control of coal-towns in Appalachia.

The defensive force was led by Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin and other law officers, many of whom were on the coal companies” payrolls.

The confrontation was the largest armed labor conflict in the nation”s history, with miners seeking the right not only to unionize but also to exercise civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly.

Upon the arrival of federal troops, these coal-miners were quickly out-manned, outgunned, and surrounded. Enmeshed in the largest post-Civil War battle ever on American soil, the miners relented – and refused to fight their fellow veterans, whom many considered their fellow “brothers-in-arms” from WWI.

Across the invisible barriers of race and ethnicity, these coal-stained warriors had gathered enough support to be kept from unionizing only by the United States Army.

It turns out, however, that they may have ended up saving Blair Mountain. These days, the only way too keep Blair Mountain from being destroyed by the coal companies are by keeping it preserved as a historical site. In Fact, The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently recognized the Blair Mountain Battlefield, along with the neighborhoods of New Orleans, and the Vesey St staircase at the WTC, as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the entire country.

Over the years, various local efforts to preserve the battle site have been blocked by the coal companies that own or lease the property where the conflict occurred. Now coal companies appear intent upon strip-mining Spruce Fork Ridge, which would completely obliterate the well-preserved and intact site. Only by drawing national attention to the importance of the events at Blair Mountain is this threatened battlefield likely to be saved.

Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, offers great perspective on the importance of this battle, and of the miners’ struggle because of its relation to current mining struggles.

“It is particularly important, given the recent mining tragedies in West Virginia, that we not lose this symbol of the bravery and determination of union miners to improve their working conditions.

Fierce opposition from the coal companies that own or lease most of the ridge – Hobet Mining, Arch Coal, Massey Energy Company and Aracoma Coal Company, among others – have stopped pervious preservation attempts. The coal companies are intent on strip-mining, which would destroy the battlefield.

By increasing public awareness of the significance of the Blair Mountain battlefield, preservation advocates hope to win support for permanently protecting the site with easements and developing a economically sustainable interpretive program, possibly through the National Coal Heritage Area, which would allow the region to take advantage of West Virginia’s fastest-growing industry – tourism.

Protecting Blair Mountain is important because of the fact that, besides being one of the oldest and most beautiful mountains in the world, its historical significance is unparalleled. A historic site that would bring tourists to this breathtaking place is a far better long-term solution than simply blowing up the mountain for coal, as Massey Energy would have us do.





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