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Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed

Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09521-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (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 discovered. These disastrous events are among the countless environmental injustices that threaten the health and safety of thousands of Central Appalachian residents. Considered by many to serve as a “sacrifice zone” for cheap energy (Fox 1999; Scott...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “How Can They Expect Me as a Mother to Look Over That?”: Maria Gunnoe’s Fight for Her Children’s Health and Safety
    (pp. 11-26)

    June the fifteenth of 2003 was my daughter’s birthday—I’ll start there. We had a birthday party, she got a bicycle for her birthday, had a real good day. The evening of her birthday, it started raining—about 4:00 in the evening. And it was a really heavy rain. But honestly, though, we get heavy rains here in the spring—we always have. It started raining about 4:00, and by 7:00, the water was literally running from one hill to the other right here behind me. A stream that you could raise your foot and step over turned into a...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “We Became Two Determined Women”: Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller Become the Sylvester Dustbusters
    (pp. 27-43)

    Sylvester was the place; everybody wanted to move here because there were no coal mines. This town was never a coal camp. In 1945, when I lived in Whitesville and went to Sherman High School in Seth, I traveled through what is now Sylvester every day to get to and from school. This spot of land through here was a golf course and a small aircraft landing strip. They lotted it out in 1949, and people began to build houses here. [Living in Sylvester] got you away from the coal-dust communities and everything. Once anybody moved here, they didn’t leave....

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Let Us Live in Our Mountains”: Joan Linville’s Fight for Her Homeland
    (pp. 44-59)

    You know why I became an activist? It was because of the mountain coming in on my house, and losing my husband the way I did to coal mining. He was in the mines twenty years exactly, and he died at sixty-one with pancreatic cancer. The lawyer told me what killed my husband was the water here—[he] said, “I know it’s what killed your husband.” The first thing [the mines] destroyed was our water. They had to close our [water treatment] plant down. When I found out what killed my husband, I got madder by the day. How can...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “You Gotta Go and Do Everything You Can—Fight for Your Kids”: Donetta Blankenship Speaks Out against Underground Slurry Injections
    (pp. 60-69)

    When I moved up here six years ago to Rawl from Sydney, Kentucky, just as soon as I got up here, I saw how the water was—the smell of it, the looks of it—what a little bit will do to you. I was automatically in for getting city water, so [in 2005] I started going to all the meetings [about the water problem]. Even though I knew [the water] was bad, I didn’t know it was that bad. Everybody takes it for granted when they have good water—including me. They don’t know what it’s like—I didn’t...

  10. CHAPTER 5 “It’s Just a Part of Who I Am”: Maria Lambert and the Movement for Clean Water in Prenter
    (pp. 70-83)

    We moved down here in 2000. My uncle had just passed away and he left my father the property. So when we moved down here, we thought that the kids—our grandkids—would be able to play in the creek. I think I had it in my mind that this is where I wanted to grow old and relax with my grandchildren, and when my husband retired we could just travel and, you know, not worry about anything. Because at that time, I didn’t have anything in my head that anything was going to go wrong—I just knew that...

  11. CHAPTER 6 “I’m Not an Activist against Coal; I’m an Activist for the Preservation of My State”: Teri Blanton and the Fight for Justice in Kentucky
    (pp. 84-93)

    I [grew up] in Harlan County in a little community called Dayhoit. It was like one of those communities that everybody took care of each other, and if somebody had too much of something, then you would share it. So it was a real caring community. Everybody watched out for everybody’s kids, that kind of thing. I was about third or fourth generation there—fourth I think.

    Watching the mountains around me and my creek being destroyed [has been a big motivation for my activism]. I have a picture of my creek that I grew up on that I loved...

  12. CHAPTER 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”: Patty Sebok’s Battle against Monster Coal Trucks
    (pp. 94-111)

    There’s a little side hollow in my hollow—it’s a branch, a dirt road, and it’s right below our house. That’s where these coal trucks were coming out of, and when [the Massey mine] first went in there, they promised everybody that they would keep the road watered because you had retired miners with breathing problems, black lung, kids with asthma, and different things like that. They told the people that they’d water the roads—they had the water truck, and they promised that they would do that. Well, that summer was really dry, and for some reason, they quit...

  13. CHAPTER 8 “Our Roots Run So Deep, You Can’t Distinguish Us from the Earth We Live On”: Debbie Jarrell and the Campaign to Move Marsh Fork Elementary School
    (pp. 112-119)

    In October of 2000, there was a sludge-impoundment break in Kentucky,¹ and that was considered the worst disaster in the eastern United States. It was bigger than the Valdez [oil] spill. My husband Ed, he was working for a contracting company at that time that had done contract work on all the strip mines in our area—and of course, most of those are owned by Massey. He was called to go to Kentucky to help clean this sludge spill up, so they spent a couple of days down there doing that work. Right after he returned home from doing...

  14. CHAPTER 9 “It’s Not Just What I Choose to Do, It’s Also, I Think, What I Have to Do”: Lorelei Scarboro’s Drive to Save Coal River Mountain
    (pp. 120-134)

    My husband spent thirty-five years as an underground union coal miner. My father was a coal miner, my grandfather was a coal miner, I have brothers that are coal miners. Living in southern West Virginia, you of course grow up around coal. My husband was a very, very proud coal miner. I believe that coal mining has been an honorable profession; I just believe that the time for coal has come and gone. As I become more aware of the damage that fossil fuels are doing to the climate, and as I think of the generations to come—what will...

  15. CHAPTER 10 “Money Cannot Recreate What Nature Gives You”: Donna Branham’s Struggle against Mountaintop Removal
    (pp. 135-147)

    I’ve lived in Mingo County, West Virginia, for the biggest portion of my life. I was raised in what you’d consider a coal camp. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the slate dumps on the side of the road or not, but that’s the way the community looked that I grew up in. Even then I didn’t feel it was right.

    [I grew up in] Trace Creek, it was a little hollow called Twenty-Seventh Hollow—I think now they call it Garnet Road. There’s a tipple there at the mouth of the hollow, and we lived beside it. [My...

  16. CHAPTER 11 “I Want My Great-Great-Grandchildren to Be Able to Live on this Earth!” The Legacy of the Courageous Julia “Judy” Bonds August 27, 1952 – January 3, 2011
    (pp. 148-167)

    I was just a regular person minding my business. I’m used to coal mining—I had an intimate relationship with the coal-mining industry. My father and grandfather, my brother was a coal miner, cousins, my ex-husband was a coal miner. They’ve been mining at Marfork—my homeplace—for forever. When Marfork Coal Company and Massey [Energy] moved in [in the 1990s], I thought it was just going to be a regular old [underground] coal mine.

    [After the mining began], I started to notice my neighbors above me there moving out. I noticed coal trucks twenty-four hours a day, seven days...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 168-190)

    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 against the coal industry. Like many other local, grassroots movements fighting for environmental justice throughout the nation, working-class women have been the ones to initiate and lead the struggle for justice in Central Appalachia.

    Much of the research on women’s...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 191-194)
    (pp. 195-202)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 203-210)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)