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Back in 1921, more than 15,000 striking West Virginia coal miners battled mine guards and, eventually, the U.S. armed forces in an attempt to unionize the state’s southern coalfields. It’s a tremendous story. The miners, many WW I vets, marched military style across Southern West Virginia. They battled mine guards and eventually fought a pitched, five-day battle on and around Blair Mountain. Famed WW I ace, General Billy Mitchell led bombing raids on the miners, as U.S. air power was employed against American citizens. It was the largest armed conflict in the U.S. since the Civil War.
Jeff Biggers tells the story well here, but this isn’t simply a history lesson. The hope of many residents near Blair Mountain was to place the site on the National Register of Historic Places. The debate over this has been going on for years. One of the advantages of getting historic designation for the site would be that the land might be protected from mountaintop removal mining, a particularly destructive way to strip coal from the hills. Blair Mountain was placed on the Registry, leading residents to believe their community had some kind of protection. And then state officials asked the Federal Registry to de-list Blair Mountain.
This attempt to take a historic site off the National Registry of Historic Places has become quite a story in West Virginia. Did Gov. Joe Manchin do the deed? Was it the work of a lower level bureaucrat? Will this result in a rather famous battleground being strip mined? Ken Ward, Jr., continues his coverage, as does Biggers.