Turning our backs on History

Hey there every peoples!

Archaeology has long been a side interest of mine. In many ways it’s like paleontology: they  both dig in the dirt for clues that help us learn about the ancient past. And their ideas are constantly changing as new evidence comes to light. And most importantly, both disciplines help us piece together the story of our world and how it came to be the world we know today. Heck, people are even getting them confused (they always ask me “you want to be an archaeologist, right?”). But they also have a less desirable trait in common: they both suffer at the hands of economic interests, be it for sale in the legit/black market or getting in the way of developers.

Ever hear of Blair Mountain? It’s a small peak nestled in Appalachia, in the heart of West Virginia’s coal country. And therein lies it’s violently disputed value. Back in 1921 about 15,000 miners marched on a company jail in Mingo County to free workers imprisoned by state authorities. Except, Blair Mountain stood in their way. Now, a 1,954 foot peak may not seem like much of an obstacle, but Blair Mountain hosted fortifications stuffed with coal industry forces, private detectives, and state police officers. So the miners armed themselves with sub machine guns, rifles, revolvers, and other weapons. They also wore red bandanas on their necks to identify themselves. See, back in those days being called a redneck was actually a complement. It meant that you worked hard earning an honest living, with a sun burnt neck to show for it.

The miners, tired of how the mining companies were treating them (with low wages and dangerous working conditions) stormed the mountain. The battle lasted five days and resulted in the death of dozens of people. Blaire Mountain represented a flash point in the labor movement. It also represents the second largest domestic conflict in American history (the first of course being the civil war). Twelve years after the conflict, Congress passed an act that let workers form unions. Basically all the stuff unions have today are the product of the brave workers who fought for what they thought was right on the slopes of Blair Mountain.

Blair Mountain is seeing conflict once again. Blair Mountain is seeing conflict once again. The Coal Companies have their eyes on Blair Mountain again but not to stop workers from unionizing. Instead, the companies have a mind to strip-mine Blair Mountain for its coal deposits, using the highly destructive method of mountaintop removal (what some refer to as strip mining on steroids). And the resistance this time is from conservationists trying to preserve this important piece of American history. Some claim that the harvesting of the mountain will bring jobs to the region. However, a National Geographic article on Appalachian mining notes “In 1948 some 125,000 men worked in the mines of West Virginia. By 2005 there were fewer than 19,000, and most of these were employed in underground mines.” This is in large part to the development of new machinery that has made the practice of mountaintop removal more efficient and cost effective. Obviously, it wouldn’t bring as many jobs as one might  think. Currently preservationists are trying to get the mountain listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Considering the companies have permits to blast the peak, as well as a supposed list of people allegedly objecting to its listing in the National Registry, the saviors of Blair Mountain are in for a long fight.

As usual, this is simply asinine and unbelievable. Blair Mountain is a big paragraph in the story of our nation. What kind of rational person would want to destroy it? For coal; a finite resource that at best belches greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Makes you want to head-desk, doesn’t it? Blair Mountain has got me thinking that maybe I ought to include Archaeology in my museum should it ever be built. As already noted archaeology has a lot in common with paleontology. And they both help tell the same story. Paleontology helps tell the story of how life came to be and how far we have come as a species. Archaeology helps put into perspective just how far we have come as a people, how we went from stone to metal, bows and swords to firearms, counting knots on ropes to calculators and so forth. Fossils and artifacts both connect us with our past and heritage. Both deserve to be saved. As for Blair Mountain, you can show your support by wearing a red bandana like the workers did almost 9 decades ago. I am. I encourage you to do the same. What separates us from the mining companies is that we refuse to turn our backs on history.

Till next time!

I'm wearing a bandana. Will you?

2 thoughts on “Turning our backs on History

  1. Yet another disturbing example of how our culture is willing to overlook essentially any sort of atrocity provided that it’s done in the name of making a profit. Why are we so obsessed with money?

    • The unfortunate side effects of a capitalist economy i guess. The over simplistic answer is greed. Most of us just want to live comfortably (each person has their own definition of that, but most are nothing extravagant). But some people just want more. Those people who make millions do it for their own selfish reasons. A lot of them don’t donate money to charity or to fund research. They use their vast fortune to fund overly lavish lifestyles for themselves.

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