Statement on the decision by the National Park Service to reaffirm the listing of the Blair Mountain Battlefield on the National Register of Historic Places
Statement from Elizabeth Merritt, Deputy General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation
“We commend the Park Service for stepping up to reaffirm the protections for this important place that symbolizes the bravery and determination of union miners to improve their working conditions. Suing the National Park Service was certainly not a step we undertook lightly at the National Trust - we usually go to court to defend the Park Service. We thank the Park Service for taking the time to correct their action and reaffirm the National Register listing of the Blair Mountain Battlefield. As a result of this decision, the relisting of the Blair Mountain will help to protect this unique ridge-top battlefield from the threat of mountaintop removal mining, which would otherwise literally destroy a significant portion of the iconic battlefield.”
Background on the Decision
The federal court ruled in April 2016 that the Park Service acted unlawfully in removing the Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register of Historic Places, and that the Park Service should not have simply accepted without question the claims by the State of West Virginia that a majority of the property owners objected to the nomination. In response to the federal court’s decision, the Park Service undertook an extremely detailed and thorough review of the property ownership records in order to determine who actually had the right to raise formal objections to the National Register nomination back in 2008-2009. That research confirmed the view of the National Trust that a majority of the actual property owners did not object to the National Register listing.
Background on Blair Mountain Battlefield
The “Battle of Blair Mountain” in 1921 was a pivotal event in the labor movement in America. Through an armed insurrection, coal miners sought better working conditions and an end to the oppressive control of the coal industry that ruled southern West Virginia. The battle was the largest conflict on US soil since the Civil War, but it is relatively little known. Fortunately, few lives were lost, and hostilities ended when federal troops arrived and hundreds of miners – many of them veterans of World War I – surrendered rather than fight soldiers they considered brothers-in-arms. The defeat at Blair Mountain dealt a major setback to the United Mine Workers of America, which was seeking to organize workers in the region’s newly opening coalfields, but the miners nonetheless accomplished a great deal. They gathered enough supporters to require the intervention of the U.S. Army and forged bonds of solidarity across racial and ethnic lines that would be helpful later when the union finally succeeded in organizing the coalfields. Over the years, various local efforts to preserve the battle site have been blocked by the coal companies that own or lease the property where the conflict occurred. In response to these threats, the National Trust named the battlefield to our list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2006.