One of the most culturally significant ridgelines in America and a showcase of Appalachian identity, West Virginia’s Blair Mountain, now hosts a struggle between proponents of its natural and human history and energy corporations annihilating it for short-term profit. A 1921-era battlefield upon which nearly 15,000 oppressed coal miners waged war against thousands of corporate-funded law officers, the 12-mile Blair Mountain ridgeline yet hides numerous military artifacts from a 5-day battle that took nearly 100 lives.
Friends of Blair Mountain recently replicated the late-summer assault on the ridge dividing union and non-union territory. The march was a proclamation of regional identity. More, it represented the universal identity of human rights advocacy. It called attention to a symbolic war. On one side stands mining machinery ready to remove the ridge. On the other is preservation on the National Register of Historic Places.
The ridgeline of Blair Mountain features classic symbols of Appalachian culture. In typical association, however, is classic economic inequity resulting from unjust distribution of energy tax revenue. The 1600 acres proposed for historic listing contain natural icons such as sassafras trees and timber rattlesnakes, as well as a visible coal seam known as a five-block seam, a rare occurrence of unmined bituminous coal.
Kenneth King, spokesman for Friends of Blair Mountain, points out that the communities below the ridge constitute the second-poorest Congressional district in America, and he expresses pessimism at the prospect of saving the ridge absent extraordinary federal intervention.
Proponents of Historic Places registration see Blair Mountain as part of our nation’s physical scaffolding. American principles were laid out there. They point to the need for taxation principles that affirm the value of both the energy resource and the people who mine it. A uniform system of per-unit-produced taxation or increased revenue distribution at the point of source would create a federal-community connection. The jobs generated would set the stage for the post-coal era.
As it stands now, armed corporate guards once again occupy the ridgeline, as in 1921, while the impoverished residents of Logan County, West Virginia prepare to have their landscape itself removed.