Written by Nell Ziehl
On September 29, 2010, prominent scholars and artists from across the country called on the National Park Service and the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office to relist Blair Mountain (one of our 2006 11 Most Endangered Historic Places) in the National Register of Historic Places. National Register listing would provide special protection to the battlefield under state and federal laws that govern surface mining, which imminently threatens Blair Mountain.
As citizens concerned with the faithful representation of America’s rich and often turbulent national history, and as scholars and artists whose work has touched upon the history of coal mining labor in West Virginia and beyond, we write to express our strong opposition to the National Park Service’s de-listing of Blair Mountain as a site of national historic significance, and to support the legal challenge to that decision launched by the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), Friends of Blair Mountain and the West Virginia Labor History Association. Many of us have worked productively with the Park Service in public history and heritage preservation projects in the past, and are hopeful that this mistaken decision can be quickly reversed.
As you are no doubt aware, Blair Mountain is the site of the largest armed insurrection on U.S. soil since the Civil War, and one of the most significant events in American labor history. In 1993 a Congressionally-mandated ‘Labor History Theme Study’ by ten historians for the National Landmarks Program recommended Blair Mountain as a landmark site. Both the site’s importance in our national history and the urgency of adopting energetic measures to preserve it were recognized again in 2006, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Blair Mountain one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The National Park Service seemed to accept that logic when, in March 2009, it included Blair Mountain in the National Register of Historic Places. We are deeply concerned at the reversal of that decision in the face of pressure from coal companies eager to strip mine the area, and alarmed by very recent reports that mining equipment is already being moved onto the site. We therefore respectfully urge the National Park Service to immediately re-list Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places.
On September 9, the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Friends of Blair Mountain and the West Virginia Labor History Association filed a legal challenge to contest the site’s removal from the National Register. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is very supportive of this challenge, and has pressed the National Park Service to reverse its decision to delist Blair.
Nell Ziehl is a program officer in the Southern Field Office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.