Coal Tattoo

Coalfield residents mourn loss of Judy Bonds

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Word came late last evening that coalfield activist Judy Bonds had died.

Jeff Biggers has a moving tribute on The Huffington Post:

A little more than a decade ago, sitting on the coal dust-swept front porch with her grandson–the ninth generation of their family to reside in Marfork Hollow in West Virginia–Bonds was outraged to hear her 7-year-old grandson describe an escape route should a nearby massive coal waste dam break and flood their valley. “I knew in my heart there was really no escape,” Bonds told an interviewer in 2003. “How do you tell a child that his life is a sacrifice for corporate greed? You can’t tell him that, you don’t tell him that, but of course he understands that now.”

Forced by an encroaching strip mine to move from her family’s ancestral land, Bonds spent the next decade as a full-time crusader (and coal miner’s daughter) to bring her grandson’s message of central Appalachia’s role as a national sacrifice zone from the devastating impact of mountaintop removal strip mining to millions of Americans across the country.

When her activism won her the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize, Judy said of her work:

When powerful people pursue profits at the expense of human rights and our environment, they have failed as leaders. Responsible citizens must step forward, not just to point the way, but to lead the way to a better world.

Updated:

In an e-mail message to supporters, Coal River Mountain Watch’s Vernon Haltom said last night:

It is with great sorry that we mourn the passing today of Julia “Judy” Bonds, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. Judy was more than a co-worker, friend, and mentor: she became family. She inspired thousands in the movement to end mountaintop removal and was a driving force in making it what it has become. I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary. Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC. In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising.

Judy endured much personal suffering for her leadership. While people of lesser courage would candy-coat their words or simply shut up and sit down, Judy called it as she saw it. She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community. I never met a more courageous person, one who faced her own death and spoke about it with the same voice as if it were a scheduled trip.

Ultimately, Judy did all any one person could conceivably do to stop mountaintop removal. One of Judy’s last acts was to go on a speaking trip, even though she was not feeling well, shortly before her diagnosis. I believe, as others do, that Judy’s years in Marfork holler, where she remained in her ancestral home as long as she could, subjected her to Massey Energy’s airborne toxic dust and led to the cancer that wasted no time in taking its toll.

Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend. No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings. When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

Here’s part of a talk that Judy gave a few years ago at an Appalachian Studies Association conference:

Feel free to share your memories of Judy in the comments section …