As we huddle around our Thanksgiving dinner tables on Thursday, reflecting on the bounty of our nation, recently elected US Sen. Joe Manchin will have the choice to either break bread with West Virginia coal miners or dine at the table of the faltering and violation-ridden Richmond-based Massey Energy company.
As New Zealand mourns the loss of 29 coal miners, every American coal miner--and every American who relies on coal-fired energy in 48 states--should be thankful for the Blair Mountain battlefield and the unending labor union struggles for basic human rights and workplace safety.
On Friday's November 26th deadline, Manchin will have the opportunity to either issue a public comment in support of saving the Blair Mountain Battlefield--the most important and endangered historic coal mining and labor heritage site--or silently acquiesce to Massey Energy's application for a 554-acre strip mining permit that will destroy parts of the Blair Mountain battlefield.
To strip mine the hallowed Blair Mountain Battlefield--site of the largest armed insurrection for labor rights in 1921--would be like desecrating Plymouth Rock.
In the spring of 2009, our nation's most prominent scholars, historians and archaeologists--including the president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, the former president of the American Historical Society, officers of the Appalachian Studies Association--made a direct appeal to then WV Gov. Joe Manchin:
"The Blair Mountain Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural treasure that deserves recognition and protection... No doubt much remains to be discovered, and scholars must be able to continue to study this important chapter in American history..We are concerned that the recent attempt to delist Blair Mountain from the National Register may be a first step toward strip-mining the mountain for coal production, which will destroy the historic site. The National Park Service found that the battlefield is both significant and intact, and we believe it must be preserved for future generations."
This past summer, archaeologists revealed clear evidence in a new report that five areas in the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia -- the most important historic landmark for coal miners in America -- were being bulldozed into oblivion by reckless Big Coal mountaintop removal operations.
In 2005, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts declared:
"The UMWA has always believed the Blair Mountain battle site should be preserved, and I began publicly calling for it back in the 1980's. We believe a monument should be erected at the site explaining what happened there, and that the road running through the site should be renamed Blizzard Highway, in honor of Bill Blizzard, the miners' leader at Blair Mountain. We support preserving the land immediately around the battle site, because we believe it's important for future generations to stand on that ground, and understand the importance of what happened there. This is also a personal issue for me and thousands of others from coal mining families who have relatives and ancestors who fought at Blair Mountain. What they did is a source of pride and inspiration to our families, and helps give us the strength to carry on their fight for justice. We will never forget it, nor should America."
Will Sen. Manchin and UMWA president Roberts speak up for Blair Mountain and coal miners and their labor heritage on Friday?
Will they publicly release their comments in thanks of the legacy of our nation's great coal mining struggles for justice?
As United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts told a gathering at Kayford Mountain in 1996, "It's so important we not sell out our heritage. He warned against "out of state coal companies have abused West Virginia for 130 years."
For more information on how to stop mountaintop removal mining and save the Blair Mountain Battlefield, see the Friends of Blair Mountain.