Tuesday, April 15, 2014

West Virginia Mine Wars Show at Daemen

Saro Lynch-Thomason, leads marchers in singing "Hold On" during the 2011 March to Blair, a re-enactment of the 1921 March on Blair Mountain

By Penny Messinger

On April 2, artist and labor activist Saro Lynch-Thomason treated a Daemen audience to the story of labor activism in West Virginia in the early 20th century. The show combined spoken word narration with Saro's vocal performance accompanied by the mountain dulcimer, while archival images brought the story to life. The show emphasized the intersection between labor activism and efforts to save the environment of the Southern Appalachians, showing how the site of a major event in labor history is endangered by the current practices of the mining industry. A story about the show appeared in the April 14th edition of The Daemen Voice.

The range of music in the show reflected the ethnic and racial diversity in mining communities of a century ago. Contrary to perceptions of Appalachia's residents, miners were a diverse lot. Along with native-born mountaineers, the mining work force included large numbers of African-Americans (both from the region and from other parts of the South) and immigrants, many of them recent arrivals from southern Europe. This diversity was evident in the images of miners, as well as in the range of music included in the show: labor songs, traditional ballads, an Italian exile anthem, folk songs from the African-American miners, and religious hymns.

Saro sings while playing the mountain dulcimer

Saro concluded the show by discussing Blair Mountain, WV, which had appeared in the show as the site of a major conflict between striking miners and coal operators in 1921. Threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining, Blair Mountain has been a rallying point for historians and environmentalists who point to the mountain's historical significance, which will be destroyed if the coal companies are allowed to proceed with plans to mine the location. "Blair Mountain has a good chance of being saved," Lynch-Thomason explained, both because of its historical significance and because of the declining value of the coal that is layered in the mountain. She emphasized ways that those in attendance can act to preserve Blair Mountain. She also talked about her book, Lone Mountain, a children's book about mountaintop removal. Her watercolor illustrations were on display during the show. 

Artwork from Lone Mountain Book Project: A Children's Book about Mountaintop Removal

You can learn more and find resources for taking action to save Blair Mountain at the Blair Pathways website, and the I Love Mountains web portal, and at our earlier blog post from March 14th.

The performance was sponsored by the History & Political Science Department, the Offices of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the Division of Arts & Sciences, the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, the Department of Modern Languages, and the Program in Global and Local Sustainability.

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