Hallowed hills: Protect Black Mountain, towns from strip mining

View of Lynch's Main Street in the shadow of Black Mountain
View of Lynch's Main Street in the shadow of Black Mountain

At issue | Jan. 23 Herald-Leader editorial, "Strip-mining would destroy historic towns; state should protect water, landscape near Lynch, Benham"

The month of January is a most appropriate time to apply phrases from Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech to what is, for most, an invisible place, Black Mountain: Kentucky's highest peak, the physical heart and soul of my hometown, Lynch, in Harlan County.

I am happy to join those protesting the strip mining of Black Mountain. I have a dream that their creative and nonviolent dissent will go down in history as a successful demonstration against this most environmentally destructive and morally reprehensible form of mining, one that profits few yet denies many life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I have a dream that their petitions will stop the progress of the blasting and the growling of machines that have already torn asunder — forever — the Virginia side of this ancient fortification, but a flyrock's throw from the town of Appalachia.

I have a dream that the protests against strip mining above Lynch and its sister city, Benham, will be heard — from every mountainside — by the Environmental Protection Agency and that a momentous decree will be issued that will save the mountain. It has been long loved by people who worked underneath it and who now languish in a place that put the steel in Pittsburgh, the headquarters of United States Steel, the company that owned this town for almost a century, starting in 1917, before deserting it and stripping it of its proud legacy as one of America's model underground coal mining towns.

The mountains are high in Harlan County, and they separate its residents — many suffering in poverty — from those who have the power to put a stop to the shameful and unhealthy conditions that strip mining Black Mountain brings.

I have a dream that Black Mountain will become like the National Mall was in 1963 when King spoke there — a sacred and hallowed spot where demonstrations against the inexpressibly horrific images left by strip mining will be sent out around the world.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of preventing the strip mining of Kentucky's highest peak. In the process of meeting our energy needs, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.

Let us not seek to quench our thirst for light and heat — and fortune — by tearing down the mountain; for our destiny is inextricably tied up with the fate of the flora and fauna on the hillsides and the creatures that live in Looney Creek, the fountainhead of which springs from the mountain and flows into the Cumberland River and beyond. We all live downstream.

We have seen enough already of what strip mining does; examples of its nightmarish results are abundant throughout Eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. Countless once-lush green valleys are now filled with rock debris while once-exalted peaks and prominent inclines are little more than bumpy, rough, rutted and uneven molehills made low, the crooked creeks buried beneath what the Lord revealed majestically 450 million years ago, its life-affirming magnificence awesome and inspiring, the eco-tourists' dream.

I have a dream that one day as my four little grandchildren visit the mountain I hiked in my youth, they too will be able to jump across nature's own stones of hope and tiptoe in the creeks of their ancestors' pride and not be repulsed by the appalling sight of mountains of despair, the evidence of the greed of man.

I dream that they will roam and wander the relatively unsullied hills around my hometown beneath which their relatives lived and worked and died and are buried.

From no mountainside should the hammers of strip mining ring.

From every mountainside, let scenic views reign. Let waters of hope and scenes of economic justice flow like mighty streams, from Jellico Mountain in Tennessee to Coal Mountain in West Virginia.

And when this happens, when the piercing sounds of strip mining are hushed, may the people in every village and every hamlet and every town, in every extraction zone — places like Lynch and Benham — join hands and sing together the words of a New Mountain hymn, "Our Mountain is free of strip mining!" Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, our mountains are free of strip mining — at last!"