This article originally provided by The Roanoke TImes

February 19, 2008

Rise and protect Appalachia

Dave Cooper

Cooper, of Lexington, Ky., is a retired engineer and a volunteer for the Mountaintop Removal Road Show.

As we celebrate Black History Month, the parallels between the great civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and the current struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia are interesting.

The documentary film "Briars in the Cotton Patch" explores tensions in the early days of the civil rights movement surrounding Koinonia, a communal farm founded in 1942 in Americus, Ga. Koinonia was a peaceful "experiment in Christian living" founded by a courageous, gentle white activist named Clarence Jordan. At Koinonia, blacks and whites worked and lived as equals.

At first, the white residents of Sumter County, Ga., ignored the communal farmers as harmless and slightly weird people with strange ideas. But after the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, the threat of integration, escalated by fear-mongering by the Ku Klux Klan, led to violent attacks on the Koinonia farm.

Koinonia's buildings were bombed, houses were strafed with gunfire, and fruit and nut trees were chopped down. Community leaders organized an economic boycott of Koinonia, and a store that broke the boycott was bombed in downtown Americus. Amazingly, the farmers endured the threats and the terrorism, and Koinonia survived and grew.

In the late 1960s, under the leadership of Jordan and newcomers Millard and Linda Fuller, Koinonia began building homes for its poor black residents. Eventually, it became the inspiration for Habitat for Humanity, which today has its headquarters in Americus and is one of Sumter County's largest employers.

It is hard for me to believe that people once opposed Habitat's ideas of building homes for poor people, but that's how far we have come in the last 40 years.

Most interesting to me in the "Briars in the Cotton Patch" documentary was watching today's white residents of Americus equivocating and making excuses for their actions and bigotry during the civil rights struggle. Their eyes shift and dart as they try and explain how they once allowed white terrorists to live among them.

Yes, they knew about the bombings and shootings, but of course they personally weren't involved. A reporter for the Americus News stated that he thought it was in the community's best long-term interest to minimize reporting of the violent attacks on Koinonia. In the '60s, the president of the local chamber of commerce in Americus asked Koinonia to leave "for the good of the community." In the film, the chamber president stated his regret, admitting, "I didn't have the guts at the time."

All this was pitiful and somewhat embarrassing to watch, but it made me think about the retrospective documentary films that will be made 20 years from now about the successful campaign to protect the people and culture of Appalachia from utter destruction.

I believe that one day we will look back with horror at photos of exploded mountains -- just as we look upon the photographs of civil rights leaders being blasted with fire hoses today. We will revile the people who put corporate profits ahead of the life support systems that this planet provides.

So who will be the heroes and villains of these future films about mountaintop removal?

Instead of Sheriff "Bull" Conner and the White Citizens Council, today we have the spokesman for the Friends of Coal and International Coal Group. Instead of Gov. George Wallace, today we have Sen. Mitch McConnell.

But who will fill the role of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.? It would be a delicious irony if the diminutive and modest Kayford Mountain Keeper Larry Gibson one day became as well known as King.

Maybe Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch or Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth will be the next Rosa Parks -- only time will tell. And there is still plenty of room in the anti-mountaintop removal movement for the next Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson.

Want to make the world a better place? Want to end injustice and discrimination? Want to help right a grievous wrong? Join the movement to end mountaintop removal mining -- and make history.

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