Who Am I?
Around 1800 my ancestor Isaac Barker settled at White Oak Creek on western Virginia’s Big Coal River. I am the eighth generation to have been born and lived in the Coal River Valley. When I was born at Emmons in 1936 my Dad, Weldon “Pepper” Martin, was a twenty year old underground coal miner, who was four years later blinded in one eye in a mine accident. He wore a coal tattoo in his left cheek just below his blinded eye for the rest of his life. My mother was a very smart nineteen year old housewife who as a Little League baseball mother integrated the team picnic in 1955.
One of my first memories is of a United Mine Workers strike at a coal mine on Lens Creek Mountain when my mother and I and my sister Melanie took lunch to Dad while he was on the picket line. In those days when the miners went on strike they all went on strike and closed every coal mine. The industry-wide strike brought the companies to the bargaining table a lot faster than a later policy that targets individual companies and allows production to continue at other mines.
Dad told me of shoveling coal while standing on his knees in a foot of water. My mother instructed one of my sons, when he was studying to be a surgeon, to always remember that his grandfather worked behind a mule in a coal mine.
My mother‘s father, Charlie Barker, and his brother, great uncle Kin Barker, were in the Battle of Blair Mountain on the side of the United Mine Workers of America. My grandpa Charlie told me that, “When they killed Sid Hatfield that was the last straw.” Grandma said that a woman they called “Mother” came to talk to the miners. Grandma was speaking of the famous labor organizer, Mother Jones.
Sid Hatfield, Bill Blizzard, Frank Keeney, Fred Mooney, Cesco Estep, Mother Jones, central figures in the Battle of Blair Mountain were never mentioned in my twelve years of public school education. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest civilian insurrection since the Civil War.
Among my best memories are playing high school football, living and working in Nigeria as West Virginia‘s first Peace Corps volunteer, working for racial justice, protecting academic freedom, protesting the Vietnam War and the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to protect our mountains from mountain top removal coal mining and enjoying the company of my children, grandchildren and two great grandchildren. (Some are still active efforts and not yet just memories).
In addition to the Peace Corps, I have worked as a paper-boy, agent orange sprayer on telephone and power line right of ways, construction laborer, filling station attendant, dish washer, waiter, lab assistant, chemical plant production foreman, rocket engineer (very briefly), West Virginia University Foreign Student Adviser, Director of Urban Outreach for the YMCA of Charleston, WV, organic farmer, and Duval High School teacher and girl’s junior high basketball coach.
While on the WVU Student Affairs staff I helped organize and named the Student Action for Appalachian Progress (SAAP)–a tutoring and community action group. Some of the students in SAAP organized a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and I accepted their invitation to be a charter member.
Twenty-two years teaching at Duval High School included three unsuccessful attempts to fire me, seven stitches in my eyebrow as a result of an assault at a Lincoln County board of education meeting by the brother-in-law of the superintendent of Lincoln County schools. The brother-in-law now, January, 2012, serves time in the state penitentiary for murder. During all that turmoil I received excellent evaluations as a teacher and actually was awarded tenure by the board of education a few months after being assaulted after at the board of education meeting.
I am now (2012) retired vice-chair of the Kanawha State Forest Foundation, retired vice-president for state affairs for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy a director of the West Virginia Environmental Education Association,West Virginia Labor History Association and the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union. I was recently voted into the West Virginia University Academy of Chemical Engineers.
I have been national vice-president of the Committee of Returned Volunteers(ex-Peace Corps volunteers committed to ending the war in Vietnam), president of the Lincoln Raiders midget football team, president of the Duval Little League, president of the Lincoln County Youth Association and building representative for the teacher‘s union(the West Virginia Education Association) at Duval High School.
In retirement I continue to fight the uphill battle against the massive environmental destruction of mountain top removal coal mining in West Virginia. For more information on that issue go to Friendsofthemountains.org.