March on Blair Mountain

Blair Mountain March Enters Third Day
By Mike Roselle | June 8, 2011

Three days into the March on Blair Mountain and the marchers are now in Madison, West Virginia, moving single file along the narrow main road snaking through this small city. The scene is calm and State Police and Boone County Sheriffs are present, and besides a few insults yelled from passing vehicles, a few pro coal placards and some crudely worded signs telling the marchers to go home, the marchers have gotten a mostly positive reception from residents along the route, and their spirits are high. Today they are about 100 marchers, while more are expected to arrive as the week’s march culminates at the big rally on Saturday. On Saturday the final rally is expected to draw over a thousand people to Blair Mountain.

Organizers have had to contend with many last minute problems, as campgrounds and parks that had agreed to host the campers all reneged on their promises in the face of strong pressure from the local politicians who answer to the coal companies. As a result, they have had to stay in a warehouse in Marmet and need to be shuttled back and forth to the highway every day, adding hours of work for the crew, but in spite of these and other setbacks, they are on schedule to arrive in the town of Blair by Saturday for the rally that will feature Emmylou Harris, Ashley Judd and other performers along with a speech from long time MTR opponent Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Attending were activists from around the country, from as far away as San Francisco, and a large contingent of Appalachians, which included several retired members of the United Mine Workers, some of whose fathers had faced the bullets in the first Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the event the marchers are commemorating. The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest armed uprisings since the American Civil War. Over 10,000 coal miners wearing red bandanas marched on Blair to break the stranglehold the coal companies had over their lives, and which had rendered them all but slaves in their own land, condemned to work like mules underground in dangerous conditions for less than a living wage.

Though the miners were eventually routed by company thugs and the US Army, the Battle of Blair Mountain alerted the nation to the desperate plight of the coal miners, and eventually led to reforms and the establishment of the United Mine Workers as the first successful industrial trade union. One would think that this alone would make Blair Mountain one of the most important historical sites in America, but due to coal industry pressure it was taken off the National List of Historical Places and Massey Energy and Arch coal have indicated that they plan to blast what remains of the mountain to get the coal underneath.

The second Battle of Blair Mountain is not about coal miners; they are mostly gone and Blair is almost a ghost town. A handful of union strip miners operate the nearby Hobet Mine, and their union, the United Mine Workers of America supports mountain top removal. The union supports the Historical Designation for Blair Mountain but has not said they oppose blasting it off of the face of the Earth. Thus there was very little active UMWA support for this march. This is a real shame, as MTR has cost thousands of union mining jobs, and UMWA president Cecil Roberts knows this. The marchers hope that by reminding the union of their shared history, that they can be convinced to change their position on MTR. Judging by the reception the marchers are getting here in Madison, I’d say they might succeed in this. I could not imagine this group walking through this town three years ago without causing a riot. The number of people who are no longer afraid to voice their opposition to the destruction of Appalachia has grown exponentially since then and the politicians are starting to notice.

More information on the march »