‘Blair Footsteps’ Find Permanent Place At New Mine Wars Monuments
This weekend, organizers with the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum located in Matewan will uncover monuments meant to provide permanent markers about the Battle of Blair Mountain and other related events.
The work is driven by the momentum of last year’s celebrations that marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain. There were walking tours, new museum exhibits, concerts, picnics and labor symposiums.
One program called Blair Footsteps offered an interpretive pop-up trail with five temporary exhibits that were up for two weeks. The trail marked where miners walked to Blair Mountain, ready for battle.
Director of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Kinsey New-Walker said the event was so successful, attendees didn’t want to see the markers come down.
“We got a lot of feedback from the centennial where folks were like, ‘Make these markers permanent,’” New-Walker said. “These stories are virtually invisible. So the thing that was missing was these history sites in the landscape and so, the Mine Wars Museum launched a new project to have something permanent.”
They called the project, “Courage in the Hollers: Mapping the Miners’ Struggle for a Union.” It’s a public history project that has so far secured resources to install two monuments in the West Virginia coalfields.
Along with some other partners, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is helping to organize two events this Labor Day weekend, one in Marmet and one in Clothier.
“We chose Marmet and Clothier because they are typically the beginning and ending points of the march,” New-Walker said. “Marmet is where mine workers and their families gathered and prepared to march.”
The statute in Marmet is of Mother Jones. There will also be silhouettes of miners who participated in the March, laying down their work gear and picking up their weapons.
“One thing about the miners' march on Blair Mountain is we don't have a comprehensive list of families who participated or miners who participated because of the secrecy and the suppression that surrounded the events and the aftermath,” New-Walker said. “But the silhouettes are actually community members who have participated in this process, shared their stories and helped make the monuments a reality.”
Silhouettes will also stand in Clothier where, according to New-Walker, “thousands pass through on their way to the front. Volunteer nurses set up field hospitals, and others set up kitchens and ammunition depots.”
The physical monuments and trails are important because the miners' march was removed from textbooks.
“Back in the 1930s, we have a letter from the governor at the time who stated that he wanted no mention of Mother Jones or the miners' march in the state's history textbook,” New-Walker explained. “That kind of sets off this trend of not talking about this history. So visitors who come to the museum can actually flip through that display and see books and letters for the 1930s all the way up to the 1970s.”
“The miners' march and the act of people having the power is a different power structure than they were used to,” New-Walker said. “It was a moment in time and in the Jim Crow era where people banded together across racial, ethnic, religious and gender lines. New stories continue to surface because miners and their families have been hushed. Either if it's from censorship from the state, but also, after the Battle of Blair Mountain, miners were put on trial for treason.”
New-Walker said the efforts have been community driven and the project has brought a powerful message.
“People brought artifacts to community meetings and shared stories about how weapons were potentially used in the Battle of Blair Mountain and photographs of the places that they grew up.”
“In a lot of ways, I think that this history can be a chance for us to rebuild ourselves too,” she said. “For me, there's a lot of pride in this history because like the folks that were coming out to the community meetings, I am also the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of union coal miners. It's a pride point for me, and I think it is for a lot of people to come out and have something positive to share about their history, their ancestors.”
Monuments will be unveiled in Marmet and Clothier this Labor Day weekend.
Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at 1 p.m. at the UMWA Local Hall 2395, End of Coal Valley Road, off Hwy 17, Clothier, West Virginia, 25183
Monday, Sept. 5, 2022 at 4 p.m. in Marmet at the George Buckley Community Center, 8505 MacCorkle Ave, Marmet, West Virginia, 25315
Project partners include the International United Mine Workers of America, UMWA Local 1440, the West Virginia Humanities Council, and the Berea College Appalachian Center.
Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP by Sept. 1: https://tinyurl.com/monumentrsvp