Activists honor man whose spirit still ‘walks Kayford Mountain’ - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Activists honor man whose spirit still ‘walks Kayford Mountain’

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In a photo taken three years ago at a celebration at his Kayford Mountain home, the late Larry Gibson dances with his wife Carol. In a photo taken three years ago at a celebration at his Kayford Mountain home, the late Larry Gibson dances with his wife Carol.
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A memorial to Kayford Mountain's resident protector featured a video of Larry Gibson proclaiming his passion to end mountaintop mining as Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave" played, reminding some West Virginians that Gibson's death last month did not mark the end of his fight.

Gibson was honored during an Oct. 14 memorial service by the many friends, family and fellow activists who came to know him over the years. Gibson, a resident of Raleigh County, died of a heart attack at the age of 66 on Sept. 9.

The Keepers of the Mountain Foundation, an organization formed by Gibson in 2004, hosted the memorial. Gibson frequently appeared in new media, books, movies and other communication deriding the practice of mountaintop mining, particularly at his 50-acre property on Kayford Mountain.

Gibson's father and grandfather were coal miners, but Gibson was opposed to the practice of strip mining. That manner of mining involves removing the top of a mountain to more easily get to the coal below that could not be economically deep-mined.

Bill DePaulo said Gibson's fight was not easy and featured long-shot odds.

"Who would put money on Larry Gibson versus the coal industry in 1986? The correct answer is nobody," DePaulo said. " … He was clueless on one major topic, that he didn't have a chance against the accumulated wealth and power he was up against. … In in his excited and animated ignorance, he just declared a war."

That war wasn't to be quite the blowout many had expected, DePaulo continued.

" … But the coal industry had one shortcoming as well. There was nothing in their background, or should I say everything in their background, that suggested they could take care of Larry Gibson with a flyswatter," DePaulo said. "The short answer is that was in their dreams, because they never encountered anybody who was as ready for war as was Larry Gibson."

Junior Walk of Coal River Mountain Watch explained that the fight was not merely an argument for preserving the landscape of southern West Virginia. The battle was complicated by health and cultural factors.

"It's about an area that's been impoverished and oppressed for the past 150 years by people with money and power," Walk said. "He knew that to do something about that, we're all going to have to ban together and take leadership positions. We're all going to have to fight this. Not fight harder, but fight as hard as we can."

Maria Gunnoe, a nationally known West Virginia activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner, also took a few moments to reflect on Gibson, but with an emphasis on continuing his work.

"We have a struggle ahead of us, and Larry Gibson will take every step of that struggle with us," Gunnoe said.

Gibson's son, Larry Gibson Jr., delivered an aggressive speech declaring his intention to also keep fighting, reminding people that his father still walks Kayford Mountain.

"I tell you something — I'm going to be here," the son said. "Mountain Keepers is going to be here. We ain't going nowhere."

Larry Gibson's daughter, Victoria Gibson, said she too believes her father remains on Kayford Mountain in spirit. She vowed to also continue his efforts, but also reflected on the man behind the movement.

"What can you really say about a man that gave you everything? He was a daddy, and he was a man in every way a man is supposed to be," she said. She said if you go to Kayford Mountain, "he's going to talk to you," and maybe even throw his arms around you in a hug.

Larry's wife, Carol, also made brief remarks after she was presented a gift from the organization.

"I didn't know what love was until Larry came into my life," she said.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's national Beyond Coal campaign, said she was proud her infant daughter, Hazel, who is an 11th generation West Virginian, came in contact with Gibson.

"Some day, I look forward to telling her that when she was a baby, she met a real life American hero and that her mama had the privilege of working beside him to save some mountains and streams," Hitt said.

Another nationally known figure in the fight against surface mining, former U.S. Rep. Ken Hechler, 98, said he and Larry knew when they first met they stood for the mutual principles of love, devotion, truth and justice. Hechler was behind the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 and has been a vocal opponent of mountaintop mining.

"We knew instinctively that we both stood for the same principles of truth and justice" Hechler said. "We did not call it anti-mountaintop removal. We could just feel in our hearts that we were both fighting for truth and justice. … Larry Gibson will live forever in our hearts."

The death of Larry Gibson comes as many in the Appalachian activist community are still mourning the loss of Judy Bonds, an outspoken activist who died in 2011, at the age of 58. Both deaths have seemed to inspire not only grief, but motivation and vigor within the tight-knit movement.

"We have too many dead heroes in this movement," Walk said. "I have too many dead friends. We can't afford another one. We need to end this as soon as we can. If we can all come together and fight as hard as Larry did, we can pull it off. I know we can."

Bill Price of the West Virginia Sierra Club spoke at the memorial of Gibson's passion for organizing.

"He had high expectations of everyone," Price said. "Whether you were a student, or an environmentalist, or a nationally known politician, that includes the president of the United States, or if you are just known at your local level, he expected you not to waste his time. … What he wanted you to was come to Kayford Mountain, leave and do something, anything."

 

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