The Battle for Blair Mountain
January 10, 2010
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As of January 8, 2010, The National Register for the Park Service has de-listed Blair Mountain as a National Historic Site. Blair Mountain in West Virginia was the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. This battle was the largest armed uprising in U.S. labor history and involved 10,000 to 15,000 laborers in a struggle with coal company-employed private detectives. The battle was over the unionization of two counties in West Virginia and was more immediately sparked by the murder of Matewan West Virginia’s police chief and union sympathizer, Sid Hatfield. The battle resulted in the calling up of the National Guard and the use of U.S. Army airplanes in the bombardment of U.S. citizens. (More information about the historical importance of Blair Mountain can be found here and here.) Blair Mountain was only added to the National Historic Site list in March 30th 2009. The removal of it from the list is in light of apparent objections by property owners at the site. The property owner complaints appear to have a number of inconsistencies. Activists seeking to preserve the site have noted that two of the property owners listed as having objected are in fact deceased. The removal of Blair Mountain from the list opens it up to the possibility of mountaintop removal mining.
Despite its size, the Battle of Blair Mountain is a largely forgotten conflict. Yet is one of the most important labor struggles in the 20th century if not in U.S. history. The battle serves as an important example of labor struggles, as well as the pattern of the use of force by industrial interests, private detective agencies, and the United States government against labor unions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. To allow the site to be destroyed is to continue a long history of washing away our less flattering history as a nation and it is a disservice to those that died there. It is, in short, criminal.
I will be following this as closely as I can in the coming weeks and posting information here as I find it.
More from Jeff Biggers (this post has a nice sum up of the situation in the latter part of the post), and Front Porch Blog. Also: Friends of Blair Mountain and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.
(The picture is of Denise Giaradina’s Storming Heaven, a fictional retelling of the Battle of Blair Mountain.)