“The cold hard facts of West Virginian life”

(Time to read Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories available on Amazon.com)

This is an excerpt for my soon to be The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA:

The following letters appeared in the Lincoln Journal in 1999. The late author and I were allies in opposition to school consolidation in Lincoln County. He was always cordial toward me before and after these letters.

Dear Editor:

          Julian Martin, a well-respected Lincoln County resident, stated that all people who support Mountain Top Removal were just doing what their boss was telling them to do, and that they were for sale to the highest bidder.
        Now let me set the record straight, sir, and explain, the cold hard facts of West Virginian life.
      First, we have loyalty and pride, being employed by coal and coal support companies, but no one tells us what to say. We are much more professional than the members of the environmental organizations operating in WV.
      Years ago, we were going off to basic training at Fort Knox, while others were going to Canada and Africa to avoid the draft.  After being in the service, we came home to work on our fathers’ farms, raising corn and tobacco, while others were raising marijuana. Upon finding a job and working hard, we received a pay check while others received a welfare check.
      We worked hard day after day because we were taught that the world owed us nothing.  While others protested, demanding society freely give them everything, at no charge.  We were called hicks and hillbillies-they were called hippies and flower children.
      Thirty years later, these social lines are still drawn.  All people have the right to their own views and opinions, but likewise all people have the right to work, prosper and support their families. And yes, we take the responsibility very seriously. But, on the other hand, a small minority of people do not have the legal or moral right to direct the majority of the people and their actions.
      I believe we have a breakdown of communication between these two groups. I believe all those who feel the same as Mr. Martin should visit a present day surface mining operation. And, likewise, I believe every coal miner support employee and anyone connected to the coal mining industry should immediately join and be a voting member of the WV Highlands Conservancy, the High Seria [sic] Club, or any other environmental organizations operating within the state. These organizations are of non-profit status, and open membership is guaranteed by state and federal laws.
      Let’s all get involved, let the voice of the majority rule, no justice, no peace.  Our great state of West Virginia belongs to us, the people, not out of state environmental extremists.  We can and will make a difference.

A man I met just once wrote this response:

Dear Editor
      [the author] who works for a company involved in strip mining is understandably in favor of mountain top removal…. There are strong arguments on both sides of this divisive issue, some of them supported by facts. He addresses none of them.  Instead, he belittles those who don’t see things his way: He describes those on his side as hardworking, patriotic, responsible citizens; those opposing his view are lazy, unpatriotic, drug-using parasites. We are all tempted to demonize those who don’t agree with us, but name-calling is no argument at all.  Perhaps his intention is chiefly to increase one side’s hatred of the other.
        One can be passionate without being unfair and illogical.

My response came next in the Lincoln Journal:

Dear Editor

          In a letter to the editor on April 12, [the author] put words in my
mouth and then attacked his own invention.  In an article of March 13, 1999, I wrote “The people who most consistently represent the coal company view are PR people who would spout whatever line the boss pays them to spout…they believe in nothing and their talents go to the highest bidder.”  [The author] rephrased this to say, “… all people who support mountaintop removal mining were just doing what the boss was telling them to do and that they were for sale to the highest bidder.” The public relations people the coal companies hire say what they are paid to say. Coal-miners say what they feel and believe. Come the next strike and those public relations people will be paid to denounce the miners as extremists.
I have never questioned the sincerity of the working people who mine
coal in West Virginia. I do question the sincerity of the owners and managers of the coal mines. They would fire every miner in a New York minute if they could find a machine to replace them.
In the same letter [the author] refers to “out-of-state extremists”. My family has been in this state since the early 1800s when Isaac Barker settled at White Oak Creek on Big Coal River. My father lost an eye in the mines, my grandfather fought at Blair Mountain. My Uncles, brother-in-law, son, friends and former students have been miners. I am not from out-of-state and being for the mountains as they are seems far less extreme than destroying the mountains.  Absentee owned coal companies like Arch Coal of St. Louis and Massey of Virginia are the “out-of-state extremists.”
Those destroyed mountains will provide no jobs in the future.  On the
300,000 acres that have been strip-mined in West Virginia, 180 million board feet of hardwood lumber could have been cut every year, forever. Hardwoods don’t grow on so-called “reclaimed” strip-mine sites, the ground is as hard as concrete.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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