Endangered Status Announced
For Blair Mountain
10 May 2006
Announcement Remarks From:
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Phyllis Baxter, Preservation
Alliance of West Virginia
|Greg Coble, Vice-President of Business and Finance
for the National Trust for
Historic Preservation, announces the inclusion of Blair Mountain
Battlefield on the National Trust Most Endangered List for 2006
||Phyllis Baxter, president of Preservation Alliance of West Virginia,
explains the national significance of Blair Mountain that led
Preservation Alliance to nominate the site for this honor.
|Kenny King (in cap), son of miners who fought at Blair Mountain, has
worked for years to preserve the site. Here he discusses his
vision for the future of the Battlefield.
|Artifacts garnered from the site
include various unfired and fired ammunition, miscellaneous
hardware, a whistle, and what appear to be jaw harps.
||Author William C. "Bill" Blizzard
inscribes a copy of his history of the Mine Wars in West
Virginia, titled "When Miners March" to an admirer at the
Blair Local Announcement
Great Hall, Cultural Center in Charleston, West Virginia
May 10, 2006 at 12:00PM
Good afternoon, welcome and thank you all for
coming. I’m Greg Coble, Vice President of Business and Finance for the
National Trust for Historic Preservation. I’m also a native West
Virginian with a particular interest in preserving our state’s unique
and significant historic and cultural heritage. I’m pleased to be here
today to make a special announcement on behalf of the National Trust.
Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation selects the
nation’s 11 Most Endangered Places. Often these sites represent
critical parts of our nation’s history that have been overlooked or
undervalued, and are in danger of being lost forever due to development
pressures, neglect or lack of public awareness. The 11 Most Endangered
listing seeks to call the public’s attention to these irreplaceable and
threatened resources, to help find a solution that will preserve these
places for future generations.
This year, the National Trust placed Blair Mountain in Logan County,
West Virginia, at the top of its list of the 11 Most Endangered Places,
announced earlier this morning in Washington, DC at the National Press
Club. It’s the first-ever listing from West Virginia – a testament both
to the national significance of Blair and the immediacy of the threat.
In the early twentieth century, coal, railroads and steel ruled the
American economy, and the growing tension between the industry
management and the workforce reached its violent peak in the sparsely
populated mountains of Logan County, West Virginia, about 90 minutes
southwest of here. The 1921 “Battle of Blair Mountain” – a clash
between approximately 7,000 union miners and a defensive force of 3,000
– was the largest armed labor conflict in the nation’s history.
Miners were seeking improved living and working conditions, the right to
unionize and the right to exercise civil liberties, such as freedom of
speech and assembly. The Logan County defenders, headed by local law
officers and volunteers, dug trenches, blocked roads, felled trees and
mounted machine guns along Spruce Fork Ridge – which encompasses Blair
Mountain – while miners swept through towns and commandeered trains on
their march. Private planes dropped homemade bombs on the miners in an
unprecedented – and unparalleled – air strike on U.S. soil. Although
heavily outnumbered, the defenders’ position on the top of the ridge
ensured their success, but it was the arrival of the United States army
that finally brought an end to the battle. The union’s defeat at Blair
had deep ramifications for the labor movement in America and abroad.
Over the years, various local efforts to preserve the battle site have
been fiercely opposed by the coal companies that own or lease the
property where the conflict occurred. Blair Mountain is now threatened
by strip-mining – also called mountain-top removal mining – which will
completely obliterate the intact, well-preserved battlefield. Today,
you can stand on the remote and beautiful crest of Spruce Fork Ridge and
visit natural rock outcroppings that served as fortifications during the
battle. If you’re lucky, you might see some of the battle debris that
is still scattered around the site. And from the top of the mountain,
you really come to understand how the topography dictated the course of
the battle. Once that’s gone, it’s gone forever.
The National Trust is calling on preservationists and the coal companies
with a vested interest in mining the mountain to come together and forge
a solution that will preserve the battlefield, so that children and
tourists from West Virginia – and across America – can visit the site
and learn about the battle, as part of West Virginia’s nationally
significant coal-mining heritage. While preserving the battlefield for
tourism, the solution must also bring sustainable jobs to local
residents and yield strong economic benefits for the property owners.
There is no site in the world like Blair Mountain, but what happened
there has been all but forgotten, especially outside of West Virginia.
As a child, my grandmother told me stories about the battle, but I never
learned about it in school. The catalogue of books and films about
Blair continues to grow, but has not reached a wide national audience.
Blair Mountain topped the National Trust’s list of Most Endangered
Places this year because we understand the incredible importance of the
site to labor history and our American story. We should begin now to
tell that story at the place where it happened.
I will now turn the podium over to Phyllis Baxter, president of the
Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the Charleston-based non-profit
organization dedicated to preserving this state’s cultural heritage. We
are grateful to Preservation Alliance for nominating Blair Mountain to
the Most Endangered list for 2006.
President - Preservation Alliance of
Preservation Alliance of West Virginia
believes that the significance of these events and this site
deserves national recognition and commemoration. Recognition of
our important historic milestones, and the places integrally
tied to them, keep our heritage and uniqueness alive, whether
those places are important buildings, or landscapes like this
battlefield. As the statewide non-profit group supporting
historic preservation, Preservation Alliance has joined
with the The National Trust in calling for national attention to
Blair Mountain as an important historic site for all Americans.
The compelling story of these miners,
fighting for better conditions and a better life,is a
unique and important piece of our history, and must never be
The story of Blair
Mountain is a story of West Virginians. Often, West Virginia’s
best assets—its people, places, and stories—go underrepresented
or ignored on the outside. And yet, through stories like Blair
Mountain, and the hallowed places where they took place, West
Virginians have played incredibly important roles in events that
have determined the history of the entire United States.
Blair Mountain marked a turning point
in the national movement to better the conditions of working
people by demanding the legalization of unions, and in the use
of the federal government to protect workers’ rights. The
miners’ effort broke down racial and ethnic barriers to
solidarity, and paved the way for successful unionization a
decade later. For a state that is often unfairly perceived as
backward, this is an important story to tell. Blair
Mountain was an important stepping stone in the ongoing story of
how our country has developed morally and come to recognize its
responsibilities to all of its workers.
Every American who has
ever turned on a stove, a light switch, an electric coffee pot
or any other appliance owes a debt of gratitude to the miners of
1921 in Logan County, West Virginia, as well as to the miners of
today. Every day, our loved ones risk their lives to produce
coal: coal that provides electricity; coal that keeps the
American quality of life so high. Those resolute men of 1921
stood together to demand that coal mining be made safer, and to
demand that the federal government assist them in achieving that
goal. While they were not immediately successful, within ten
years the United Mine Workers of America was recognized and set
about immediately to bring those same benefits of organized
labor to America's coal miners.
The site of this
action must be recognized to honor the specific events that
happened here, but also in symbolic recognition of the plight of
all West Virginians who have worked difficult but essential jobs
in the coal mines, and who have struggled for respect and better
conditions for more than a century. This Most Endangered
listing helps raise the profile of the Blair Mountain
battlefield beyond West Virginia, to show its national
importance in the history of unionization and the fight for
better working conditions across America.
The nomination seeks
to encourage collaboration between historic preservationists,
miners, and the coal companies to preserve this site, to tell
the story of coal mining in West Virginia, and to communicate
its significance to the nation.
We believe that a means must be
found to assure that Blair Mountain becomes a highly visible
resource to tell the story of our country's labor history and
respect for our workforce, and we want to work with the owners
of the site to help this happen in a positive way.
nationally-significant site, Blair Mountain can become an asset
that supports and contributes to long-lasting and sustainable
heritage tourism in the region. West Virginia’s best assets are
its people and its places. Blair Mountain is a real place that
tells a story about real people. Recognition, preservation, and
interpretation of Blair Mountain will create a permanent
memorial to this pivotal national event and to the miners who
Mr. Coble Resumes:
Thank you, Phyllis. For the past 15 years, one
man has really been at the forefront of the charge to preserve Blair
Mountain and tell people about the important battle that occurred
there. Kenny King has led the effort to list the 1,600-acre Spruce Fork
Ridge on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic
Places. As a proud worker in the coal industry, he understands the
significance of West Virginia’s coal heritage to the history of our
country. Like many of us, he has a personal connection to the events at
Blair Mountain – namely, relatives who fought on both sides of the
battle. Please help me welcome Kenny King.
(Text for Mr. King's remarks not available at this
Thank you, Kenny. The National Trust is tremendously pleased to be part
of the effort to honor coal miners past and present, and West Virginia's
coal mining heritage, by bringing national attention to Blair Mountain
and the battle that took place there in 1921. At this time, we have
approximately 10 minutes for questions.