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Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

Posted: July 15, 2010 08:18 AM

Will coal miners ever receive any respect?

On the heels of the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster in April, the 41st coal miner died in a violation-ridden Peabody mine last week.

Since the April 5th non-union Massey mine disaster, an estimated 300 coal miners have died from black lung disease.

And yet, clear evidence in a new report by researchers has emerged that five areas in the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia -- the most important historic landmark for coal miners in America -- are being bulldozed into oblivion by reckless Big Coal mountaintop removal operations.

My archeological colleagues have discovered five apparently recently bulldozed areas of great historic interest in the southern part of the Blair Mountain Battlefield, one of which was previously recorded as a battle site in the files of the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, " said long-time Blair Mountain archeologist and professor at Appalachian State University, Dr. Harvard Ayers. "Only one of the five is on land with current mining permits," he added. "This bulldozing is particularly disturbing since we scientists are only beginning to understand the details of this 1921 labor conflict. To bulldoze a fragile archeological resource that means so much to West Virginians and beyond is like ripping pages out of the only history book of the battle."

Wess Harris, a former coal miner and editor of the Blair Mountain Battle classic, When Miners March, adds:

Corruption in our state's historic preservation office has galvanized an amazing coalition of local residents, state wide activists, and national organizations-- all determined to protect Blair Mountain. Recent discoveries regarding the brutality of coal camp life have made it ever more clear why citizens were called to arms to end the unspeakable abominations that are now being spoken.

Citing a lack of compliance with National Park Service regulations, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, the Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have a filed a formal petition to reconsider the outrageous removal of Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register.

In 1921, coal miners led the largest armed insurrection in the US since the Civil War in the Blair Mountain area, in an attempt to liberate besieged coal camps that had not been allowed to unionize.

According to the petition, the Keeper of the National Register "improperly relied on a list of 57 owners 'recalculated' by the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office" last spring, which led to the delisting of the historic battleground from the Registry. Assisted by Big Coal lawyers, the WV State Historic Preservation Office list even included dead people.

The Petition, which was sent to the Carol Shull, the Keeper of the National Register and the WV State Historic Preservation Office on July 6, requests that the battlefield be reinstated on the Registry and concludes:

Mining companies own a substantial amount of land within the Blair Mountain Battlefield, and absent the special protection afforded under West Virginia law by National Registry listing, they intend to proceed with mountaintop removal operations, substantially destroying this important site.

Thanks to University of California doctoral researcher Brandon Nida, the recent destruction of the historic battlefield has been documented in this new video: