This is an update of photographer Antrim Caskey’s Mountaintop Mining Watch series from West Virginia. Last week, Mark Ovaska covered a march of activists trying to save Blair Mountain from its slated destruction.
The march culminated in a rally on top of the mountain. Over the course of the week, the group of several hundred protesters faced serious difficulties on the sixty mile route. Their camping permits were revoked and pro-coal local residents harassed them with insults and invective. But they succeeded on the last day in gathering almost a thousand people to march up the steep two mile incline to the mountaintop summit in extraordinary summer heat. They wore red scarves of unity and solidarity, a traditional symbol of Appalachian labor organizers harkening back to the 1921 miners that fought the coal companies at this site.
Evoking his father, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has been a staunch environmentalist and advocate against mountaintop removal, spoke at the rally and wrote in The Huffington Post: “West Virginia is today’s epicenter of one of America’s greatest civil disobedience movements. More than 200 people have been arrested protesting mountaintop removal coal mining in the past 18 months…Union busting corporations have commoditized not just the workforce, but the historic landscapes of West Virginia, using great machines and dynamite to eliminate mining jobs. While production has more than doubled in 10 years, industry employment is one-tenth of it what it was when my father warned me about strip mining as a 14-year-old boy.”
Blair Mountain was selected for the National Registry of Historic Places in 2008. Over a hundred miners and coal company paramilitary contractors were killed in 1921. A million rounds of ammunition were fired, and to this day, bullets, weapons, and other artifacts are routinely found. But the historical designation was removed under pressure from the coal companies. The contemporary battle is thus complex and hard to reconcile: to save a heritage site, to stop the devastation of mountaintop removal, and to protect the rights of workers. All are very much in balance.
–Alan Chin, with reporting from Antrim Caskey and Mark Ovaska
Please see the other posts in the Mountaintop Mining Watch series.