Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain, West Virginia, is considered the father of the movement to stop mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. He fought the practice for a quarter century until his death of a heart attack on September 9 while working around his cabin atop the mountain. At a folk festival in his memory on Kayford October 13, WIN's MT interviewed many persons who knew and loved Gibson. They cited his courageous environmental stand against coal and his heart-felt concern for his family, friends and neighbors -- including the miners who beat him up, shot his dog, and threatened to kill him because they feared his campaign would cost them their jobs.
Larry Gibson founded the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation in 2003 to preserve the remaining 50 acres of his ancestral 300 acres of land, most of which his family members had been swindled out of by unscrupulous land companies, which leased the property to coal companies. A short walk from his mountaintop home, which he described as "almost heaven," a giant mountaintop removal site blasted hundreds of feet off the mountain, leaving a moonscape behind. Chuck Nelson worked in underground mines for 20 years and was a close friend of Gibson. They were arrested together many times and traveled the country, speaking out against mountaintop removal. Nelson describes Gibson's early life.
Cut :33 Larry, as a child, growing up here and seeing his father work in the coal mines and seeing how hard he labored and how he came draggin' in after workin' a shift, and of how the coal company was abusing their workers, how they took advantage of them. Sometimes he seen where people has gotten hurt in the mines. His dad got hurt in the mines and wasn't able to pay rent because you stayed in a company home, and they kicked you out of the home -- they evicted you from the house.
Gibson left West Virginia to work in the auto industry in Ohio for 20 years, but after being injured he returned home, Nelson said.
Cut :29 And as bad as it was when he grew up, when he returned he was just devastated by what the coal companies were doing to the mountains, to his homeland. After he seen what was happening to it, he started speaking out, and this was over 25 years ago -- talkin' about MTR and how they blow the tops literally off the mountain and dump the over-burden in the valleys and just destroying community after community.
One of the fellow activists who paid tribute to Gibson was Andrew Munn, a young organizer who first came to West Virginia a year out of college, coming down from Michigan to participate in an anti-mountaintop removal action. He mentions Massey Energy, which blew up the majority of the mountains destroyed by the practice with a mostly non-union workforce.
Cut :41 And the car ride down was a six-hour car ride sitting between Larry Gibson and Chuck Nelson and it was nothing short of a life-changing experience sitting between these two elders, who were from a background totally different from mine but were just spouting nugget after nugget of wisdom with such strength and certitude -- Chuck talking about his experience fighting for the union when Massey was coming in, and Larry saying that he thought he would die in the course of doing this work and standing up for what he believed in. I hope I can live up to Larry's legacy.
A few hundred people attended a four-hour tribute to Gibson the next day in Charleston, and vowed to carry on his work.