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UMW looks to join Blair Mountain talks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The United Mine Workers is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accept its request to become a "consulting party" in ongoing discussions about the preservation of the Blair Mountain battlefield.

"The UMWA is the labor union whose members marched and fought in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the event that made the Battlefield an important historic site worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places," UMW lawyer Laura Kerr wrote in a Friday letter to the Corps.

The march on Blair Mountain, which began in Marmet, turned out to be the largest armed confrontation in American labor history.

Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921, more than 10,000 union coal miners battled with local law enforcement officers and coal company guards along Blair Mountain ridge. The miners began their march in Marmet, seeking to unionize mines in Logan and Mingo counties. The battle ended after federal troops arrived.

Kerr wrote, "Some historians recognize the Battle as a principal catalyst for passage of the National Labor Relations Act [in 1935], the federal statutory framework for worker organizing and the peaceful resolution of industrial disputes.

"The Act enabled the coal miners of southwestern West Virginia and millions of other American workers to organize into unions," Kerr wrote. "The UMWA is committed to the preservation of the Battlefield."

Friends of Blair Mountain, the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and the West Virginia Department of Culture and History have also asked the Corps to make them "consulting parties" in the ongoing discussion about whether to permit mining on Blair Mountain.

Susan M. Pierce, West Virginia's deputy state historic preservation officer, has raised questions about the negative impacts mining could have on Blair Mountain in several letters to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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