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Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed

Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice

Shannon Elizabeth Bell

Publication Year: 2013

Motivated by a deeply rooted sense of place and community, Appalachian women have long fought against the damaging effects of industrialization. In this collection of interviews, sociologist Shannon Elizabeth Bell presents the voices of twelve Central Appalachian women, environmental justice activists fighting against mountaintop removal mining and its devastating effects on public health, regional ecology, and community well-being. Each woman narrates her own personal story of injustice and tells how that experience led her to activism. The interviews--a number of them illustrated by personal photographs--describe obstacles, lawsuits, and tragedies. But they also tell of new communities and personal transformations catalyzed through activism. Bell supplements each narrative with careful notes that aid the reader while amplifying the power and flow of the activists' stories. Bell's analysis outlines the interconnectedness of Appalachian women's activism and their roles as wives and mothers. Ultimately, Bell argues that these women draw upon a broader "protector identity" that both encompasses and extends the identity of motherhood that has often been associated with grassroots women's activism. As protectors, these women challenge dominant Appalachian gender expectations and guard not only their families, but also their homeplaces, their communities, their heritage, and the endangered mountains that surround them.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I cannot begin to express how deeply grateful I am to the twelve strong, brave, and determined women whose stories fill this book. Donetta Blankenship, Teri Blanton, Donna Branham, Pauline Canterberry, Maria Gunnoe, Debbie Jarrell, Maria Lambert, Joan Linville, Mary Miller, Patty Sebok, and Lorelei Scarboro, you are amazing individuals. Judy Bonds, words do not adequately ...

List of Figures

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-10

Black coal dust rains down on a town, destroying property values as well as residents’ lungs. A house—with a family inside—is nearly washed away by a flash flood caused by the presence of a mountaintop-removal mine. A breach in an underground coal waste injection site pollutes the well water of an entire community, and years pass before the toxic contamination is ...

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1. "How Can They Expect Me as a Mother to Look Over That?": Maria Gunnoe's Fight for Her Chilcren's

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pp. 11-26

Maria Gunnoe is a lifelong resident of Bob White, West Virginia, and takes great pride in her Cherokee heritage. She is a community organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and recipient of numerous awards, including the University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal (2012), the Goldman Environmental Prize (2009), the Rainforest Action Network’s David vs. Goliath Award (2007), the ...

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2. "We Became Two Determined Women": Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller Become the Sylvester Dustb

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pp. 27-43

After coal is mined, it must be chemically cleaned and crushed in order to prepare it for burning in coal-fired power plants. Communities neighboring such plants, such as the town of Sylvester in Boone County, West Virginia, contend with massive amounts of coal dust in the air, making life unbearable for some residents. Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller, who are known as the “Sylvester ...

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3. "Let Us Live in Our Mountains": Joan Linville's Fight for her Homeland

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pp. 44-59

Joan Linville was born in Kentucky in 1938. When she was eight months old, her family moved to Boone County, West Virginia, where she has lived most of her life. I interviewed Joan at her home in Van in July 2007. She was also a participant in the Photovoice project I organized from 2008 to 2009, and some of the photostories she created through that project appear in this chapter. In her narrative, Joan ...

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4. "You Gotta Go and Do Everything You Can--Fight for Your Kids": Donetta Blankenship Speaks Out

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pp. 60-69

Donetta Blankenship holding jars of coal slurry–contaminated well water from her Donetta Blankenship lives in Rawl, West Virginia, where residents’ well water became contaminated with coal slurry from an underground coal waste injection site. Before coal is sent to market for processing, it must be cleaned in order to reduce sulfur and noncombustible materials present in the coal. The waste product ...

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5. "It's Just a Part of Who I Am": Maria Lambert and the Movement for Clean Water in Prenter

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pp. 70-83

Maria Lambert is a lifelong resident of the community of Prenter in Boone County, West Virginia. Born in 1958, Maria lived most of her life in Prenter “Main Camp,” which is one of the former coal camps situated in Prenter Hollow. In 2000, she and her family moved a few miles down the road to a piece of family land in Sand Lick, another area of Prenter, where they had hoped to live in peace. This ...

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6. "I'm Not an Activist against Coal; I'm an Activist for the Preservation of My State": Teri Blanto

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pp. 84-93

Teri Blanton is one of the most well-known environmental justice activists in Kentucky. A community leader with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), Teri has been fighting to hold the coal industry accountable to Appalachian communities for more than a decade. In addition to her local community activism, she has spent countless hours lobbying the Kentucky legislature and U.S. Congress ...

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7. "I'm Not Going to Be Run Out, I'm Not Going to Be Run Over, I'm Not Going Out without a Fight":

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pp. 94-111

Patty Sebok is a lifelong resident of the Coal River Valley in Boone County, West Virginia, and has been an outspoken activist against overweight coal trucks and irresponsible mining practices for more than a decade. Born in 1955, Patty spent most of her adult life living in the community of Prenter. Patty’s husband, Butch, worked as an underground union coal miner for almost thirty years and has ...

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8. "Our Roots Run So Deep, You Can't Distinguish Us from the Earth We Live On": Debbie Jarrell

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pp. 112-119

Debbie Jarrell and her husband Ed Wiley became involved in the environmental justice movement when they initiated a campaign to move the students of Marsh Fork Elementary School to a safer learning environment. The children who attended this school, one of whom was their granddaughter Kayla, played in a playground that stood in the shadow of a massive coal preparation plant with ...

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9. "It's Not Just What I Choose to Do, It's Also, I Think, What I Have to Do": Lorelei Scarboro's Drive

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pp. 120-134

For many years, Lorelei Scarboro has been involved in local struggles for justice in her community. She has been an activist and leader in the movement against school consolidation, she has fought to protect Coal River Mountain from mountaintop-removal mining through advocating for a wind farm to be constructed in place of surface mining, and most recently, she has created a community ...

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10. "Money Cannot Recreate What Nature Gives You": Donna Branham's Struggle against Mountaintop Removal

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pp. 135-147

Donna Branham lives in the community of Lenore in Mingo County, West Virginia. She lives on a small subsistence farm where she and her husband Charlie raise chickens, keep bees, and grow vegetables and grapes. She became active in the environmental justice movement when permits for mountaintop-removal mines began to threaten her community and farm. I interviewed Donna at her ...

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11. "I Want My Great-Great Grandchildren to Be Able to Live on the Earth!": The Legacy of

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pp. 148-167

Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 and appearing in dozens of films, books, and articles, Julia “Judy” Bonds is one of the most well-known faces of the anti–mountaintop-removal movement. The Appalachian activist family suffered a heart-breaking loss on January 3, 2011, when Judy died of cancer. Hundreds—if not thousands—grieved her passing across the nation. Fierce and ...

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12. Conclusion

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pp. 168-189

The twelve women whose stories fill this book have watched their communities, their mountains, their streams, their homes, their families, and their own health be ravaged by destruction related directly to the coal industry. All of these women have decided to take a stand against the injustices they have witnessed, despite the numerous barriers they have encountered to speaking out ...


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pp. 191-194


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pp. 195-202


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pp. 203-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095214
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037955

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013