CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Union members, conservationists, community leaders and celebrity singers are preparing to go on a 50-mile march on Blair Mountain next month to honor labor struggles of the past and call for an end to mountaintop removal mining today.
Grammy Award winners Emmylou Harris, Tim O'Brien and Kathy Mattea are all expected to perform during the events. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is scheduled speak during the final rally on Blair Mountain.
The march is set to begin June 6 and end June 11.
Hundreds of participants in "Appalachia Rising: March on Blair Mountain" plan to walk from Marmet to the Blair Mountain ridge between Boone and Logan counties, where the final rally and concert will begin at 10 a.m. on June 11.
Marchers plan to travel the same route taken by more than 10,000 coal miners on their historic march to organize the non-union southern coalfields. The march lasted five days in late August and early September 1921.
The confrontation between United Mine Workers members and coal company gunmen was the largest armed confrontation in United States labor history.
Today, Massey Energy, recently bought by Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal are interested in opening mountaintop-removal mines along the historic 15-mile ridge.
Blair Mountain was briefly placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but removed after coal industry pressure on state agencies. Last year, environmental groups and a labor association filed a federal lawsuit seeking to restore Blair Mountain to its place on the National Register.
"If you stand for more jobs instead of fewer jobs, you stand for Blair Mountain," said event organizer Chuck Keeney, the great-grandson of Frank Keeney, president of UMW District 17 during the first Blair Mountain March. "If you stand for preserving our cultural heritage instead of destroying it, you stand for Blair Mountain."
He added, "If you stand for honoring the memory of the miners who fought and died there, educating our children, and building a better future for West Virginia and all Americans, then you stand for Blair Mountain."
Terry Steele of Mingo County, another event organizer, said that surface mining actually reduces employment. He worked 26 years in the mines.