Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Something's Rising

Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal

Silas House
Jason Howard
Foreword by Lee Smith
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Something's Rising
    Book Description:

    Like an old-fashioned hymn sung in rounds, Something's Rising gives a stirring voice to the lives, culture, and determination of the people fighting the destructive practice of mountaintop removal in the coalfields of central Appalachia. Each person's story, unique and unfiltered, articulates the hardship of living in these majestic mountains amid the daily desecration of the land by the coal industry because of America's insistence on cheap energy. Developed as an alternative to strip mining, mountaintop removal mining consists of blasting away the tops of mountains, dumping waste into the valleys, and retrieving the exposed coal. This process buries streams, pollutes wells and waterways, and alters fragile ecologies in the region. The people who live, work, and raise families in central Appalachia face not only the physical destruction of their land but also the loss of their culture and health in a society dominated by the consequences of mountaintop removal. Included here are oral histories from Jean Ritchie, "the mother of folk," who doesn't let her eighty-six years slow down her fighting spirit; Judy Bonds, a tough-talking coal-miner's daughter; Kathy Mattea, the beloved country singer who believes cooperation is the key to winning the battle; Jack Spadaro, the heroic whistle-blower who has risked everything to share his insider knowledge of federal mining agencies; Larry Bush, who doesn't back down even when speeding coal trucks are used to intimidate him; Denise Giardina, a celebrated writer who ran for governor to bring attention to the issue; and many more. The book features both well-known activists and people rarely in the media. Each oral history is prefaced with a biographical essay that vividly establishes the interview settings and the subjects' connections to their region. Written and edited by native sons of the mountains, this compelling book captures a fever-pitch moment in the movement against mountaintop removal. Silas House and Jason Howard are experts on the history of resistance in Appalachia, the legacy of exploitation of the region's natural resources, and area's unique culture and landscape. This lyrical and informative text provides a critical perspective on a powerful industry. The cumulative effect of these stories is stunning and powerful. Something's Rising will long stand as a testament to the social and ecological consequences of energy at any cost and will be especially welcomed by readers of Appalachian studies, environmental science, and by all who value the mountain's majesty -- our national heritage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7341-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Lee Smith

    Silas House and Jason Howard are both sons of Appalachia, their family lives intertwined with coal mining.Something’s Risingbears witness to the people they love and the lives they have lived—and still live, with great courage, right here in Appalachia.

    House and Howard present a straightforward, knowledgeable, and cogent explanation of exactly how mountaintop removal came to be, and exactly what it is: “an entire mountain is blown up for a relatively thin seam of coal,” followed by giant machines that push dirt, rocks, and trees into the valleys below, destroying streams, wildlife, and the lives of any...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    “Despite all the riches under ground, the most important riches of the area are above ground: they are the people … It is your understanding coupled with your creative thinking that can find the creative solutions to the problems that exist. You can find the opportunity in the problem, open it up, articulate it, and bring new things into existence. And by doing so create a new, brighter future.”¹

    These words were spoken by Senator Robert F. Kennedy at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, on February 13, 1968, during a fact-finding mission of sorts. Over the course of...

  6. The Preservationist
    (pp. 23-44)
    Jean Ritchie

    Jean Ritchie’s eyes haven’t changed since she was a young girl. At eighty-six years old, they are as blue as blown glass, full of wisdom and cleverness and intensity and, above all, kindness. Kindness lights up Ritchie’s entire face, so clear and real that it causes her to seem almost not of this world. Beatific. And she possesses the same kindness in her hands, in the slight, humble bend of her neck, in her beaming smile. And of course that kindness is what comes through the clearest, the cleanest, in her voice. It is there in her speaking voice, but...

  7. Mother Jones’s Great-Granddaughter
    (pp. 45-66)
    Denise Giardina

    Denise Giardina is a radical. Perched on the worn couch in her cozy home in Charleston, West Virginia, Giardina doesn’t shy away from this term, a death knell in modern politics. She certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype. Her wardrobe doesn’t consist of military fatigues. There are no pictures of Che Guevara on her walls, no “Lyndon LaRouche for President” fliers lying on her coffee table. That’s just not her style. Instead, Giardina looks to Henry Thoreau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Mother Jones as her guideposts for revolutionary change.

    Mother Jones is of particular importance to Giardina. Nearly one hundred years ago,...

  8. Little Acts of Greatness
    (pp. 67-94)
    Bev May

    Bev May moves up the steep mountain much like she must have as a little girl growing up here on Wilson Creek, Kentucky. Her trusty dog, Rufus, a mixed breed with a noble profile, is barely able to stay ahead, although he seems intent on doing so. May’s climbing is steady, her steps wide, and she never stops talking, eager to introduce us to the place she loves so much, the place she is terrified of losing.

    Like that young girl, May is conscious of everything. She points out deer tracks, a single red leaf decorating the otherwise summer ground...

  9. Union Made
    (pp. 95-112)
    Carl Shoupe

    Carl Shoupe is mad as hell. You can’t hear it in his voice or even see it in his eyes. The clench of his firm, mountain jaw—his inheritance from his Cherokee grandmother—is the giveaway. As he stands to address the Bank of America shareholder meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, he chooses his words skillfully, succinctly, ever the true Appalachian diplomat: “I came all the way from Kentucky because I am trying to save my homeland from total destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, which Bank of America is a leading financier of. The southern Appalachian Mountains have...

  10. A Light in the Dark
    (pp. 113-130)
    Kathy Mattea

    “There’s a certain point in Eastern Kentucky, on I-64, when I’m driving home, where the mountains start to rise. Every time I hit it, still I feel it, it’s way down deep, and something just lets go,” Kathy Mattea says. “As I get closer and closer to home the horizon gets closer and closer until I can only see right around the bend, and that feels real safe to me, being nestled in like that. Home, in the mountains.”

    Mattea is a beloved, Grammy-winning singer who spent the last decade of the twentieth century as one of country music’s most...

  11. The Endangered Hillbilly
    (pp. 131-150)
    Judy Bonds

    There’s a heaviness that hangs over the town of Whitesville, West Virginia. Like the fog from the nearby Big Coal River, it seeps through the streets, past the empty storefronts, on up the mountainside to the rows of houses that overlook the town.

    It has become the invisible resident, a testament to the flight that has taken place over the years even as the profits of the mining industry have soared. Many of the buildings on the main street are vacant, pocked by broken windows boarded up with plywood. Only a few businesses barely hold on: an auto shop, a...

  12. Called to Action
    (pp. 151-178)
    Pat Hudson

    It’s a cold Sunday morning in East Tennessee and the Church of the Savior is filled to capacity. The congregation stands; voices from across the crowded church harmonize and send the words of a nineteenth-century hymn soaring up to the rafters.

    For the beauty of the earth

    For the glory of the skies

    For the love which from our birth

    Over and around us lies

    Lord of all, to Thee we raise

    This our hymn of grateful praise.

    As the organ swells with its last note, Pat Hudson and Dawn Coppock move to the lectern and invite the congregation to...

  13. Appalachian Patriot
    (pp. 179-200)
    Jack Spadaro

    It’s the beginning of the dreaded dog days of summer on the forks of Troublesome Creek in Knott County, Kentucky. Those gathered at the forks for the Appalachian Writers Workshop, held annually on the hillside campus of the Hindman Settlement School, are exhausted from the intense, day-long sessions.

    Twenty or so attendees have gone up the mountainside to gather on the porch of Preece, one of the school’s cabin-style dorms, where the night air hangs thick with humidity and revelry. Their songs drift down through the pines—tonight the favorite is Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl”—and mingle with the drone...

  14. A Leader, Not a Follower
    (pp. 201-216)
    Nathan Hall

    When presidential hopeful John Edwards visited Whitesburg, Kentucky, in June 2007, retracing the steps of Bobby Kennedy’s “poverty tour,” the first question he answered was one posed by Nathan Hall, a twenty-three-year-old Berea College student from Floyd County, Kentucky.

    Hall, looking uncomfortable in a button-up shirt and freshly pressed khaki pants, explained that he wanted to come back to the region after completing his degree in sustainable agriculture and industrial management with a focus on biodiesel. Then he launched into his carefully prepared question: “If you’re elected president, how will your initiatives to fight rural poverty and jump-start a green...

  15. Holy Ground
    (pp. 217-244)
    Anne Shelby and Jessie Lynne Keltner

    It is high summer, and the sisters are picking blackberries on the homeplace.

    They amble along this place of their youth, the land that has been in their family for more than a hundred years. In fact, this land is apartof their family. They move over it the way someone might run their thumb over the knuckles of their mother in her old age. Although these women walk with determination and purpose, they seem to tread lightly on this holy ground, not so much walking on it as floating just above it, careful not to harm anything that...

  16. The Gathering Storm
    (pp. 245-262)
    Larry Bush

    The road over Black Mountain winds about like a coiled snake, poised to strike at any moment. At 4,145 feet above sea level, Black Mountain is one of Appalachia’s highest mountains. The view from crooked Highway 160 is nothing less than breathtaking on this July evening as a storm front moves in on over the Cumberland Plateau in Harlan County, Kentucky. The seemingly endless acres of trees are dark green beneath the graying sky, a pristine forest that seems untouched by humanity. From up here this looks like a wild, primal land.

    After dozens of stomach-churning curves, a small sign...

  17. Appendix A: Text of the Petition Letter Circulated by Coal Companies against the Stream Saver Bill
    (pp. 263-264)
  18. Appendix B: House Bill 164, the Stream Saver Bill, as Introduced in February 2008
    (pp. 265-266)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 267-286)
  20. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 287-290)
  21. About the Authors
    (pp. 291-292)
  22. Index
    (pp. 293-306)