Manuel Quinones, E&E reporter
Environmentalists and coal miners will begin a five-day march Monday in southern West Virginia to protest a mountaintop-removal mining at Blair Mountain, which in 1921 was the site of the largest U.S. armed insurrection since the Civil War.
Organizers say several hundred people will march 50 miles or so from Marmet, just south of Charleston, to Blair in Logan County, the heart of Appalachian coal country. They will follow the route taken by thousands of miners 90 years ago to advocate for unionization and to protest deplorable work conditions at the mines.
"It's history that I didn't learn in school," Chuck Keeney, great-grandson of renowned union leader Frank Keeney, said in an interview. "It's a history that I learned at family picnics, holidays, sitting around the fireplace."
March organizers say there are several mine permit proposals in the area -- projects that Keeney calls an affront to the memory of those who sacrificed to improve working conditions in the coal fields.
"We care about our history," Wilma Steele, a Mingo County teacher and active member of Friends of Blair Mountain, said in an interview. "I could sit and listen to stories, you know, from older people."
Many foes of mining on Blair Mountain say coal companies are targeting the area for a reason.
"I think Blair Mountain represents that history they want destroyed," said Steele, whose husband worked in the mines for more than 20 years. "They don't want people remembering the unions."
But for many advocates, the fight against mountaintop-removal mining goes beyond Blair Mountain. They say it stands as a symbol for a broader fight.
"We call for protection for Blair Mountain from mountaintop removal," West Virginia author Denise Giardina said in a statement about the march. "Indeed, an end to all mountaintop removal."
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