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Threats to Blair Mountain Historic Site Prompt Legal Appeal

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Great news this morning in the continued fight to protect Blair Mountain:

Groups Continue Fight to Keep West Virginia Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places

Logan County, WV – A coalition of historic preservation, labor history and environmental protection organizations filed an appeal today in a renewed effort to restore West Virginia’s Blair Mountain Battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today’s appeal challenges an October 2, 2012 ruling in a U.S. District court that declined to address these organizations’ claims that Blair Mountain was unlawfully removed from the National Register of Historic Places. The groups contend that the National Park Service’s December 2009 decision to de-list Blair Mountain – which was, in 1921, the site of the largest insurrection in the United States since the Civil War, as coal miners clashed with law enforcement over the right to unionize – was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the National Park Service’s own guidelines.

In October, the court concluded that the groups lacked legal standing to challenge the National Register de-listing because there was insufficient proof of an imminent threat of coal mining at the site. This decision ignored abundant evidence that coal mining companies continue to seek permits to mine the battlefield and continue to block efforts to list Blair Mountain on the National Register.

“With the exception of the Civil War, the Blair battle is the largest insurrection in U.S. history,” said Regina Hendrix of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We cannot let this rich, undisturbed, site be wiped away forever. The area is a vital part of U.S. labor history. The archaeological record waiting to be explored will clearly show the places where the battle occurred, as well as the intensity of the battle at different sites. The archaeological record has lain dormant for 90 years along the Spruce Fork Ridge from Blair Mountain to Mill Creek and it cries out for our protection.”

“Blair Mountain stands as a center-piece of American labor history and West Virginia culture,” said Kenny King, a lifelong resident of Blair and member of the Board of Friends of Blair Mountain. “The courageous resistance of ten thousand striking coal miners in 1921 was an outcry for basic human rights. Blair Mountain must not fall to the insatiable greed of the coal industry but rather stand as a monument that honors the gains for which those miners sacrificed their lives and livelihoods. Never before, nor since have so many American workers taken up arms to fight for their constitutional rights. Blair Mountain, West Virginia stands not only as a reminder of our proud history, but also as a living symbol of hope for all who seek justice.”

“I’ve lived in Blair for over 50 years, it is my home and the mountain is my back yard,” said longtime resident of Blair West Virginia, Carlos Gore. “For our sake, and the sake of our history, the battlefield needs to be preserved so that future generations can understand what happened here and why it’s so important to be remembered.

“This ruling creates a no-win situation for preservationists and environmentalists fighting to protect the Blair Mountain battlefield and America’s labor history,” explained David Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Unless this decision is reversed, we would be prevented from taking action to protect this significant place until after coal mining has already begun, at which time irreparable damage would no longer be avoidable.”

“Blair Mountain is an important part of my family’s history, “said Julian Martin of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “My grandfather and great uncle fought at Blair Mountain in 1921 on the side of the United Mine Workers of America. It would be a huge loss for Blair Mountain to be unprotected from mountain top removal strip mining.”

Background: The battle for Blair Mountain is a central event in labor history in the United States and certainly one of the best known of the many labor struggles in West Virginia. The actual site of the battle is a key part of our history and should be preserved for our children’s children to visit and explore. After many nominations and revisions the site was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, only to be de-listed nine months later in a move that the coalition believes was unlawful. Since Federal coal mining laws provide strong protection for sites actually listed on the National Register, removing Blair Mountain from the Register puts the future of this important place at risk.

Groups involved in this appeal are the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Friends of Blair Mountain, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Labor History Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Appalachian Voices  •  Coal River Mountain Watch  •   Heartwood  •  Keeper of the Mountains • Kentuckians for the Commonwealth 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition  •   Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment • Sierra Club Environmental Justice

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards  •   SouthWings  •  Stay Project  •   West Virginia Highlands Conservancy

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