The Battle of Blair Mountain

Written by Amanda Starbuck

Topics: Coal

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The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest organized armed uprising in United States labor history and led almost directly to the labor laws currently in effect today. For nearly a week in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, WV, between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners confronted company-paid private detectives in an effort to unionize the southwestern West Virginia mine counties.

Well, there’s a new battle raging at Blair Mountain – the fight to protect it from Mountaintop removal coal mining.

Recently Blair mountain was de-listed from the National Register of historic places, following pressure from the coal industry who are keen to extract the black gold from Blair Mountain’s seams.

Here’s an extract from a letter I received this week from Paul Roland, a resident of WV who is working to save this important piece of Appalachia heritage. Paul sent this letter to Carol Shull, Keeper of the National Historic Register at the National Parks Service:

“As an Italian-American on my father’s side, I feel particularly close to this issue, knowing of the thousands of immigrant miners who suffered terrible living and working conditions in the mines and mining camps, while contributing to the production effort for World War One and to US economic development. Despite their harsh conditions and often severe repression by the mine owners of attempts to form legal unions to better their lives and realize the “American Dream,” many of these immigrants joined with native-born Americans to confront the arrogant and often cruel control over their lives by the coal-mining companies. Frustrated by the lack of legal recourse to achieve collective bargaining rights and by the use of intimidation and terror to block their efforts, many thousands took the drastic step of arming themselves and marching together to Blair Mountain to make a decisive stand for justice.

“The working people who engaged in the labor battles of the last century, as well as subsequent generations who benefited from their courage and sacrifice in gaining the full legal protections and wage-guarantees of unionization, deserve recognition of their efforts, and the Blair Mountain Battlefield site is one of the most striking emblems of that heritage.

“In my family there is a keen appreciation for the importance of our shared American history. My mother’s ancestor’s settled in the Virginia colony in what is now West Virginia before the Revolution, and my mother has been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Our ancestors followed the path of the pioneers, settling and building the new nation, and many fought in all the wars in which this country has been involved. Some are memorialized by Civil War battle National Historic sites, and I firmly believe those who struggled and fought and even died at the Battle of Blair Mountain deserve the same recognition.

“Thank you for taking the time to listen to the many people who support the re-listing of Blair Mountain and I urge you to reconsider your previous decision.”

If you, like Paul, feel that Blair Mountain should be preserved, please write to:

Ms. Carol Shull, Keeper
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places
1201 Eye St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

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