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81 four “We Mean to Stop Them, One Way or Another” Coal, Power, and the Fight against Strip Mining in Appalachia chad montrie D e s pi t e a w e a l t h o f mi n e r a l r e s o u r c e s , t h e p e o p l e of southern Appalachia are by most measures poor. For over a century now, miners have extracted coal from bountiful reserves and loaded it on train cars to be used somewhere else, in factories or at electric utilities typically beyond the region, with little in the way of a fair return. Property and severance taxes were and are still minimal, while the number of jobs that might pump wages into the local economy has been in steady decline, mostly due to ever more sophisticated methods to increase production with fewer miners.This was, in fact,the main reason coal operators shifted to surface mining after World War II. Simply removing the layers of “overburden” on the side of a mountain or removing the whole top of a mountain, to get at a seam underneath, requires only a fraction of the labor force to extract the same amount of coal as deep mining. Additionally, operators can treat many of the adverse environmental and social impacts this type of mining causes as“externalities,” leaving state or federal governments and individual property owners to deal with the cost of acid mine drainage, ruined roads, dry wells, cracked home foundations, insufferable dust, burst slurry dams, and devastating flooding. Yet this is not to say that mountain residents have been silent and passive in the face of their “colonial” exploitation. During the 1960s and early Chad Montrie 82 1970s resistance was particularly fierce. In Pike County, Kentucky, to cite just one example, people organized and engaged in nonviolent direct action as well as industrial sabotage, challenging not only coal operators but also the local political officials who did their bidding. This happened most dramatically in the summer of 1967, when the Puritan Coal Company threatened to advance on farmer Jink Ray’s land. The company was authorized to do so because Kentucky courts had ruled that broad-form deeds, separating mineral and surface rights, gave mineral owners the right to extract coal without a landowner’s consent and without compensation for most damages. To stop the mining, antipoverty activist Joe Mulloy put Ray and his supporters in touch with the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People. They established their own AGSLP chapter, and when a Puritan bulldozer crossed Ray’s property line a group of nearly twenty-five people stood in the way and forced it back. Shortly afterward, someone set off dynamite near the mine machinery.“We mean to stop them,”explained retired deep miner Bill Fields, “one way or another.”1 In the latter part of July, when a Puritan bulldozer tried once more to clear Jink Ray’s land, activists blocked the path again and convinced the governor to cancel the permit, but that was not the end of the matter. In retaliation for the protests, the Pike County sheriff and the president of the Independent Coal Operators Association (ICOA) visited antipoverty activists Joe Mulloy and Alan McSurely to question them about their role in the actions. Several days later, the commonwealth attorney and past ICOA president Thomas Ratliff returned with fifteen armed deputies to arrest the two men, as well as McSurely’s wife. When longtime civil rights and antipoverty activists Carl and Anne Braden came to bail them out of jail, they arrested them too. The charge was attempting to overthrow the government of Pike County, a violation of a 1920s sedition law.“From what I have seen of the evidence in this case,”Ratliff said,“it is possible that Communist sympathizers may have infiltrated the antipoverty program not only in Pike County, but in other sections of the country as well.” The objective of the antipoverty workers, he claimed, was“to stir up dissension and create turmoil among our poor.”2 After the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled the sedition law unconstitutional , coal operators pressured Governor Edward T. Breathitt to end antipoverty work in the region, which he did by making a phone call to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity.The next year,a new governor,Louis Nunn, worked with legislators to establish a Kentucky Un-American Activities Committee, which held hearings to investigate communist...


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