Group of historians petition the National Park Service to restore Blair Mountain historic status





A group of distinguished historians, educators, and filmmakers has published an open letter to the Department of the Interior to protest the National Park Service’s decision to remove the Blair Mountain battlefield in Logan County, West Virginia, from the National Register of Historic Places.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest armed conflict on American soil since the Civil War. Fighting broke out between 10,000 unionized coal miners, enraged by years of brutal treatment from the coal companies, and local and state police, and a hastily-raised citizens’ militia in late August, 1921. A pitched battle developed on the slopes of Blair Mountain, even involving the use of aircraft to drop bombs on the miners’ lines. The fighting ended only with the declaration of martial law and the intervention of federal troops. Nearly a thousand miners were arrested, and organized labor in West Virginia was effectively dead until the Roosevelt administration.

Signatories of the petition include John Sayles, the independent filmmaker who produced and directed the critically-acclaimed Matewan, which dramatized the 1920 Matewan massacre, a critical event in the lead-up to Blair Mountain, James W. Loewen, author of Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, and Carl R. Weinberg, editor of the Organization of American Historias’ Magazine of History.

The full petition is below:

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.

Signed,

Thomas G. Andrews
Assistant Professor of History, University of Colorado at Denver
Author, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War

Harvard Ayers
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Appalachian State University
Principal Investigator, Blair Mountain Archaeological Project

Stephen Brier
Professor in Urban Education, City University of New York
Co-author, Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture and Society

Colin J. Davis
Professor of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Co-editor, ‘It is Union and Liberty’: Alabama Coal Miners and the UMW

Alan Derickson
Professor of Labor Studies and American History, Penn State University
Author, Workers’ Health, Workers’ Democracy: The Western Miners’ Struggle, 1891-1925

Hazel Dickens
Singer and Songwriter from Mercer County, West Virginia; National Heritage Award Recipient; Inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
Writer, “West Virginia, My Home”

Traci JoLeigh Drummond
Archivist, Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University Library

William Ferris
Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Senior Associate Director, Center for the Study of the American South

Leon Fink
Distinguished Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
Editor, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas

Kenneth Fones-Wolf
Professor of History and Stuart and Joyce Robbins Chair, West Virginia University
Author, Glass Towns: Industry, Labor and Political Economy in Appalachia, 1890-1930s

Denise Giardina
American Book Award-Winning Novelist born in Bluefield, West Virginia
Author, Storming Heaven

James Green
Professor of History and Labor Studies, University of Massachusetts at Boston
Associate Producer, Out of Darkness: The Mine Workers' Story
Author, ‘The Devil is Here in These Hills’: The West Virginia Mine Wars and the
Meaning of Freedom in Industrial America (forthcoming, Pantheon)

Cindy Hahamovitch
Professor of History, College of William and Mary
President, Southern Labor Studies Association

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall
Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Director, Southern Oral History Program

Wess Harris
President, Appalachian Community Services; 2009 West Virginia History Hero
Editor and Publisher, When Miners March

Brian Kelly
Reader in US History, Queen’s University Belfast (N. Ireland); Fellow of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University
Author, Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921

Kevin Kenny
Professor of History, Boston College
Author, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Barbara Kopple
Independent Filmmaker, Cabin Creek Films
Producer and Director, Harlan County USA

Robert Korstad
Professor of Public Policy and History, Duke University
Co-author, To Right These Wrongs: The North Carolina Fund and the Battle to End Poverty and Inequality in 1960s America

John H. M. Laslett
Professor Emeritus of History, University of California at Los Angeles
Editor, The United Mine Workers: A Model of Industrial Solidarity?

Daniel Letwin
Associate Professor of History, Penn State University
Author, The Challenge of Interracial Unionism: Alabama Coal Miners, 1878-1921

Ronald L. Lewis
Professor Emeritus of History, West Virginia University
Author, Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920

Alex Lichtenstein
Associate Professor of History, Florida International University
Author, Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South

James W. Loewen
Visiting Professor of African American Studies, University of Illinois
Author, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

Scott Reynolds Nelson
Legum Professor of History, College of William and Mary
Author, John Henry: Steel Drivin’ Man—The Untold Story of an American Legend

Brandon Nida
Doctoral Candidate in Archaeology, University of California Berkeley
Project Partner, Blair Mountain Archaeological Project

Kimberley L. Phillips
Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Associate Professor of History, College of William and Mary
President, Labor and Working-Class History Association

Barbara Rasmussen
Lead Historian for the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Blair Mountain
Author, Absentee Landowning and Exploitation in West Virginia, 1760-1920

David Rovics
Singer and Songwriter
Writer, ‘Battle of Blair Mountain’—featured on West Virginia Public Television

John Sayles
Screenwriter and Independent Film Director
Producer and Director, Matewan

Karin A. Shapiro
Visiting Associate Professor of History, Duke University
Author, A New South Rebellion: The Battle Against Convict Labor in the Tennessee Coalfields, 1871-1896

Joe Trotter
Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice, Carnegie Mellon University
Author, Coal, Class and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-1932

Carl R. Weinberg
Editor, Organization of American Historians Magazine of History
Author, Labor, Loyalty and Rebellion: Southwestern Illinois Coal Miners and World War I

Robert H. Woodrum
Assistant Professor of History, Georgia Perimeter College
Author, ‘Everybody Was Black Down There’: Race and Industrial Change in the Alabama Coalfields


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