MARMET, W.Va. -- On Monday morning, hundreds of people began a weeklong, 50-mile trek to protest mountaintop removal mining and defend labor rights.
Nearly 250 marchers and supporters of the Appalachia Rising March on Blair Mountain gathered at the Marmet Baseball Field for a rally on Monday morning. An hour later, shortly after 10 a.m., they headed toward Blair, a town near the Boone-Logan county border, where their march will end on Friday.
As the marchers began, several people driving through Marmet honked their horns in support of the marchers. Two small groups of counter-demonstrators held up signs including "Friends of Coal" and "I Love Coal."
The marchers plan to walk the same route more than 10,000 coal miners took between Aug. 24 and Sept. 4, 1921, marching to Logan County to organize non-union miners.
The 1921 March on Blair Mountain was the biggest armed conflict in American labor history. After several days of battles, federal troops arrived and ended the conflict.
"We need to preserve Blair Mountain. It represents the movement that laid the foundation for our middle class, said Joe Stanley, a retired miner from Matewan in Mingo County. "We are marching in memory of those miners."
Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy last week, now own much of Blair Mountain. Some anti-mining activists have tried to get the mountain put on the National Register of Historic Places to preserve it.
Representatives from the coal companies have not commented on this week's march.
Larry Gibson, a longtime local activist against mountaintop removal mining, said, "This is not about coal. It is about saving Blair Mountain."
Chuck Keeney, great-grandson of Frank Keeney -- president of the United Mine Workers District 17 during the 1921 March on Blair Mountain -- spoke at the ballpark rally.
"We wish to honor a history some would like to see destroyed," Keeney said.
"If you stand for more jobs instead of fewer jobs, you stand for Blair Mountain. If you stand for preserving our cultural heritage instead of destroying it, you stand for Blair Mountain."
Blair Mountain's coal reserves, Kenney said, can all be mined in underground operations, which would also create twice as many jobs.
Sara Lynch-Thomason, who grew up in Nashville, Tenn. and lives in Asheville, N.C. today, said, "My family is very good about keeping its own history. I am a Hatfield. Blair Mountain is an opportunity to honor people who fought before.
"We are marching not only for the workers and their families, but also for the land they live on," she said.