Today marks the beginning of a weeklong march in West Virginia to commemorate the role a mountain played in the fight for unionization in the coalfields.
When 10,000 coal miners marched 50 miles across the rugged landscape of southern West Virginia in 1921, they didn’t know they would make history. They tied red bandannas around their necks—hence, the term ‘rednecks’—and protested for their right to join a union. When they reached Blair Mountain, they faced off against coal company forces and the state police.
The Battle of Blair Mountain ensued, and became one of the most significant events in the country’s labor history. Today, Blair Mountain is still standing, but mining companies have expressed interest in mining the ridge.
Carl Shoupe is a former miner and union organizer in Harlan County. He’ll be marching in West Virginia next week as part of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
“I’m a United States former Marine,” he said. “I would compare Blair Mountain to the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. That’s how much I respect that.”
Shoupe says he’s not against mining or miners, but he is fighting the practice of mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is a type of strip mining where the top of a mountain is removed to access a coal seam.
“What they’re doing to our precious mountains and our water here in central and southern Appalachia, it’s a crime against humanity,” Shoupe said.
Coal companies have expressed interest in mining the mountain’s ridge, but environmental activists and labor historians are working to save it. There’s a lawsuit pending to put Blair Mountain back on the National Register of Historic Places—where it was briefly. Environmental groups have also filed a petition with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to declare the mountain “unsuitable for mining.”
The group will march for five days, tracing the path the miners took ninety years ago.