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Avatar in Appalachia

Friday, January 8th, 2010

By Bill Kovarik—Editor, The Appalachian Voice

The characters are different but the plot is all too familiar:

In the movie Avatar, Parker Selfridge of the RDA mining corporation, has the bulldozers take down the Na’vi history tree. It’s standing between them and a valuable black energy rock called “unobtainium.”

In Appalachia, Randall Reid Smith, WV Commissioner of Culture and History, asks the National Park Service to remove National Historic Register designation from Blair Mountain, site of a major 1921 confrontation between the coal miners unions and the coal industry. On Jan. 8, 2010, Carol Schull, Chief of the National Register for the Park Service, announces an unprecedented de-listing of a national historical site, effective immediately.

Appalachia’s history is standing in the way of another valuable black rock.

“If they can Stalinize our history like this, it shows that big coal still owns our state government,” said Wess Harris, editor of “When Miners March,” a book documenting the union’s side of the battle of Blair Mountain. “This action does not stand alone but is part of a deliberate effort to erase Appalachian history.”

The site of the 1921 armed conflict between over ten thousand coal miners and company guards involved at least 80 deaths. The site has enormous significance for historians and for the American labor movement.

Letters of support for the original historic places listing—approved just last March of 2009—came from the Presidents of the United Mine Workers of America, the Society for Historical Archeology, the Society of American Archeology, and many other historians and scholars.

“The Blair Mountain Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural treasure that deserves all the recognition and protection we can muster,” said archeology professor Harvard Ayers of Appalachian State University. “The coal industry…conducted a scare campaign to con property owners within the nomination boundary into signing formal objections to the listing. “

The decision to de-list Blair Mountain (first reported in a blog post by Jeff Biggers) is questionable on a number of levels, not the least of which is that two of the property owners who supposedly object to the Historical listing are deceased.

In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi of Pandora have intricate language, customs and connections to the natural world that supports them. They are under assault from corporate greed, and one of the first places attacked is their historical memory contained in the Tree of Voices.

Appalachian people have similarly intricate connections to the natural world of Appalachia—connections that they are losing as explosives and giant bulldozers destroy the mountains for coal.

Their history is also under assault.

Its one thing to watch a movie, but it’s another to understand the point that a movie like Avatar is trying to make.

Outside the popcorn palaces, the harsh reality of the struggle over valuable black rock is evident not in distant lands or remote worlds, but very close to home.

3 Responses to “Avatar in Appalachia”

  1. sam Says:

    As with all embarassing US history,we like to ignore it. What about facing our mistakes as a learning curve?

  2. Bruce Jackson Says:

    Historical places are placed on the list because they were the sight of a major historical event that future generations of Americans should be aware of.

    DELISTING such a place is a major crime that needs to be stopped. Especially when it turns out that it is for financial gain of a select few very greedy individuals.

  3. Dick Blizzard Says:

    There is a simple solution to this destructive practice. MINE THE COAL UNDERGROUND! If we quit making electricity by burning coal the half the lights in America would go out – that is a fact. Like it or not. The coal companies can make a fair profit mining coal underground, but they can make more by blowing to tops of beautiful mountains. So far they have destroyed over 500 mountains and the damage is permanent.

    America desperately needs coal. Coal miners need jobs. Coal can be mined profitably without destroying our beautiful mountains. Mountaintop removal is a despicable and destructive system of mining conceived in greed. It is unbelievable that such destruction is tolerated in this time of environmental awareness, but as always money rules and the lobbyist have the money.
    The Long Wall* system of underground coal mining is productive, safe, profitable and environmentally acceptable. Big Coal can make big money by mining coal underground, but their greed demands more.
    Ninety years ago my great uncle, Bill Blizzard,** led 10,000 miners against the coal company’s hired thugs in the battle for a living wage and reasonable working conditions. They fought the big battle at Blair Mountain, W. Va. Many people must step up now and battle to save our mountains. Five hundred beautiful mountaintops have already been blown away forever.
    In 1920 Uncle Bill and his army fought with guns to right the terrible wrongs, but today, we must fight with our letters and our emails and demand reasonable and responsible methods of coal mining. Forward every letter and every email you receive and hurl as many missiles out into cyber space protesting mountaintop removal as you can. Write a protest and send it to everyone on your list. Don’t bother with politicians. Politicians don’t care about us – they already work for the coal company lobbyist.
    When we win, Appalachia will win, miners will win and the mountains that God created will continue to stand. environmental

    Dick Blizzard

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