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Blair Mountain

Endangered Status Announced
For Blair Mountain

10 May 2006
Cultural Center
Charleston, WV

Text of Announcement Remarks From:
Greg Coble, 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 announcement ceremonies.
Greg Coble
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.
 

Phyllis Baxter

President - Preservation Alliance of West Virginia

Thank you, Greg.  As Greg illustrated, the Battle of Blair Mountain was a nationally significant event that impacted West Virginia and the nation. The UMW and its predecessors began organizing in the late 19th century in Pennsylvania. From there, over the next several decades, the drive to unionize and improve conditions for miners swept west and south. That drive reached its crest on Blair Mountain, and the site of that struggle remains there today.

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 forgotten.

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. As a 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 fought there.

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 time.)

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.
 

 

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Copyright © 2006 Preservation Alliance of West Virginia