Following news that the State of West Virginia requested that Blair Mountain be removed from the National Register of Historic Places, several committed volunteers helped the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia gather signatures for a scholars’ letter, urging an alternative to surface mining on the site. More than 80 writers, historians, archaeologists and other experts signed on, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson and noted historian Henry Louis Gates.
The letter was delivered to Governor Manchin’s office last week:
Dear Governor Manchin:
As historians, archaeologists, and other scholars, we urge you in the strongest possible terms to investigate all avenues for preserving and interpreting the nationally significant Blair Mountain Battlefield, which was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Blair Mountain is the site of the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. The struggle that took place on the mountain pitted approximately 10,000 coal miners against an army of 5,000 who were opposed to their unionization attempts. More than one million rounds of ammunition were fired in the confrontation during the late summer of 1921.
Although the miners were defeated there, the American labor movement began slowly to gather momentum. The egregious conditions in the nation’s coal fields that were exposed by the miners’ actions drew public attention to the working conditions confronting laborers in every sector of the nation’s industry. The fight to unionize was synonymous with the fight to bring dignity, democracy, and safety to American work places.
The Blair Mountain Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural treasure that deserves recognition and protection. Archaeological research performed in preparing the National Register nomination indicates that the battlefield has tremendous integrity, as it presents a rich and well-preserved record of the details of the conflict. This preliminary research has revealed interesting and provocative information about force movements, weaponry, and strategies used by both sides in the battle. These findings are especially critical, given fallible and sometimes contradictory narratives of the battle. No doubt much remains to be discovered, and scholars must be able to continue to study this important chapter in American history.
We are concerned that the recent attempt to delist Blair Mountain from the National Register may be a first step toward strip-mining the mountain for coal production, which will destroy the historic site. The National Park Service found that the battlefield is both significant and intact, and we believe it must be preserved for future generations. If mining is necessary, we strongly encourage the state and federal agencies with oversight over mining to work with the property owners to find a solution that will allow mining on Blair Mountain without destroying the historic site.
There’s still time to sign the National Trust’s general petition! Click here to take action!
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