In the summer of 1921, Blair Mountain in Logan County West Virginia became the site of one of the largest civil uprisings ever to occur in post-Civil War U.S. history. In late August of that year, over 10,000 union coal miners made the journey from Marmet, West Virginia to Blair, West Virginia — a nearly 50 mile route — in an attempt to unionize the southern coal fields. Tired of the treacherous working conditions they faced, miners wrapped red bandannas around their neck and began their march, seeking to bring other miners to their cause. The coal companies disapproved, and worked to stop the unionization. At Blair Mountain, the miners’ efforts were put to a stop. Marchers were met by an army of police and strikebreakers. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were exchanged. After battling for five days, the event was stopped by the intervention of the United States Army at the order of then-president Warren G. Harding. Historians suggest this was the only time in American history where the U.S. government ordered it’s own army to take aim at its citizens.
Fast forward almost 90 years to today, and Blair Mountain is facing what some deem as another sort of “battle”. Coal mining companies in the area have sought to make Blair Mountain a surface mining site. Environmental groups and advocates of historical preservation contend that the area is a historical landmark, and continue to seek protection for the site. In response, the Appalachia Rising: March on Blair Mountain event was created. From June 4-11, 2011, modern day marchers will recreate the 1921 march — without the violence, organizers say — this time seeking “to demand sustainable job creation in all Appalachian communities, abolish mountaintop removal, strengthen labor rights and preserve Blair Mountain,” according to the March’s website (at http://marchonblairmountain.org/). The event has been organized by environmental groups Appalachia Rising and the Blair Mountain Coalition. It is supported by sixty-two other environmental and social organizations.
To mark this historical event, West Virginia-based freelance multimedia journalist M.L. Ramsburg developed the Battle for Blair: The 2011 March on Blair Mountain website. He’ll use various storytelling methods (writing, still photography, audio and video) to create reports on what’s happening on the ground at the March and in the communities where the March is scheduled to pass through. He’ll use social media sites like Twitter (@mramsburg_march) to bring you details of the March as they happen. Finished multimedia will be published online on this page, as well as in various West Virginia publications and websites. Links to the published work will also be included on this site. And, if you are a Marcher, a coal miner, or a community member living in one of the communities where the march is scheduled to occur, you can add your voice to the special report, too. Just click the Submit Your Story link at the top, and we’ll include it on the website.